The NAACP Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up

On Saturday, America’s oldest civil rights organization made its opposition to charter schools and Black families official.

What the NAACP should have done, like their local chapter leader, Rodney Muhammad did, was spend time in schools like the one that I run on the west side of Philadelphia. Mr. Muhammad sang praises for the work being done by and with the Black youth in our school community after visiting last spring. But, he was reluctant to share his experiences and the potential that charters have to addressing the massive inequities perpetually forced on our communities.

Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus empowers hundreds of families each year to address generations of educational neglect.  In urban areas long forgotten by the politicians, public school options have become the path to a better life.

Our public charter school has now graduated almost 600 students since it opened in 2006 and has boosted the percentage of students meeting state standards in reading and math by 50 to 70 percentage points on the previous state exams. With the new Common Core aligned state standards, we are currently using this past success to improve our academic program even further.

Despite the fact that most of our students enter our school 2-3 grade levels behind, every one of our students has been accepted to a post-secondary program and 80% were accepted to four-year colleges and universities. By comparison, almost one in every two black boys living in a major American city will drop out of high school.

Equally powerful is the learning that goes on in our classrooms, the new opportunities provided to students before and after high school graduation, and the pride shown on parents’ faces when they watch their children liberate themselves from the school-to-prison pipeline.

The NAACP chose politics over children

Like many other communities in Philadelphia and other urban areas, we have found successful, cost efficient, and needed solutions through public charter schools. Yet, the NAACP made the unprecedented decision to call for a national moratorium on these very same schools.

As a principal of a community charter school that has been recognized nationally, this decision by the NAACP is alarming and unjust.  And as an African American who has worked his whole adult life to expand opportunity for African American families, I am offended by the NAACP’s misguided, politically-motivated decision.

I have learned the hard way that when decisions by those who claim to work on your behalf leave you scratching your head in confusion, follow the money. To explain why the NAACP sided against Black folks and to go after schools like mine, the answer is pretty clear: the most vocal opposition to charters comes from teacher unions, who also fund the NAACP to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By falling in line with these funders, the NAACP has declared war on the very constituency it was created to help.  Instead of influencing policy to support a high-quality education for all children, this wayward organization has turned its back on 700,000 Black children in charter schools and millions more who are desperate for a better education.

Our school districts were failing long before the advent of public charters schools 25 years ago.  The idea that Black families who live in the catchment area of a perpetually failing district school system would be denied choice is unfathomable.

The Long Lost legacy

The stubborn achievement gaps facing Black students can be mitigated with more – not less – access to better schools like Shoemaker. Public school choice is a right that must not be compromised, especially by a civil rights organization whose stated mission is to ensure “political, educational, social, and economic equality.”

Sadly, the NAACP’s decision perpetuates the kind of unfair stereotypes it was originally created to fight against. To rationalize their decision and cloud their relationship with the unions, the NAACP makes the absurd claim that public charter schools are taking over public education. The fact is, fewer than 7% of all public school children attend charter schools and no one is forced to attend. They are open to all and do not charge tuition.

Stereotypes have long been a part of American history and our culture.  We have all witnessed how these stereotypes play out, whether it is a poorly trained and biased policeman or a racist vigilante assuming the worst of our black children and shooting them on our streets.

For families in Philadelphia’s 19131 zip code, politics and philosophical differences are not luxuries that are part of the decision-making process of our parents. They just want safe, good schools for their child to attend.

Rather than ignoring results and showcasing stereotypes, the NAACP should speak in one united voice that all Black lives and all Black families matter. To suggest that Black families should not have unmitigated access to quality public education shows how far away the NAACP has strayed from its noble inception.

The NAACP has fallen and it can’t seem to get up.

*A version of this post appeared on NBC.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Up Next