NAACP vote against charters moves us in wrong direction

ByRosezina Williams (op-ed)

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As an African-American single mother who has struggled to find the right schools for my two kids, charter schools have been a blessing. Although I have children with very different needs, it was obvious that traditional public schools in Houston were failing to provide either of them with the education they needed, and charters have offered them a chance to achieve more.

This is why I am so disappointed that the NAACP board of directors earlier this month voted in support of a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. The NAACP is an organization that I admire and that has done so much for the black community. I personally am the product of the NAACP’s hard work on behalf of black students. My mother was one of the first students whose attendance integrated an all-white school in the 1960s. My uncle was a black teacher in Virginia when that was practically unheard of.

The NAACP’s work to break down barriers made those remarkable feats possible.

Many of the challenges young students of color face are still here. But in attempting to fix a problem with public education generally, they have gone after the wrong target.

I know that too many of our public schools have racial and ethnic achievement gaps, or provide quality education to only a privileged few. But if the members of the NAACP who pushed for the moratorium talked to the parents of charter school students, they would find out what we know firsthand: Charters offer an excellent, free public education to children of all backgrounds.

Unlike specialty schools or private schools, charter schools are open-enrollment public schools. More children from low-income backgrounds sit in charter school classrooms than in non-charter public school classrooms.

Many of the students who attend charter schools struggled in their previous schools. But once the students get to charters, they receive a better education than if they had stayed in a traditional public school.

My son Sayvion is a sweet and sensitive boy who is passionate about art, and who has a learning disability. He was bullied at his traditional elementary school and didn’t get the support he needed from teachers or staff. On some days it was so bad, Sayvion was afraid to go to school. The bullying affected his mental health, and he had to miss even more class to receive treatment from his doctors. I had to go observe his class so often to make sure they were following his treatment plan that, coupled with court visits battling the school district, I eventually lost my job. I was trapped in a cycle of failure, and I don’t know how we made it through.

So after considering my options, like 1 million other families around the country, I added my name to waiting lists at several charter schools in Houston and my kids started school at YES Prep and A& Unlimited Potential charter schools. Their new schools are helping so much because they treat my children like individuals. For my son, it’s been a blessing to have a school that makes it a team effort to make sure he gets the education he needs.

Since finding two schools that are the right fit for my children, I’ve worked to help other parents in my community become aware of the opportunities offered by charters.

These schools are free and open to the public, and they don’t cater to the privileged.

Charters enroll more students of color and more low-income students than traditional schools, educate their students with more innovative and customized curriculums, and post higher graduation rates with kids who are well prepared for college and beyond.

I understand that the NAACP wants all students to be able to attend high-quality public schools, and I couldn’t agree more. We should be working together to fix the problems in our education system, and a moratorium on all new charter schools is a step in the wrong direction. Charter schools aren’t perfect but, for my family, they stepped in to fill a gap that district schools were not providing.

The NAACP should be embracing this success, not turning it away. We need them now more than ever to be a true leader in fighting for an equal playing field for our kids.