"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The NAACP Case Against NYC

Ben Jealous in op-ed at the NY Daily News:
The NAACP fights for the rights of all children. As the civil rights organization that represents the most parents and children of color in the most places across this country, we know well the anguish of parents with few to no choices for quality education. That anguish fuels the sense of urgency with which we approach the fight to ensure all children have access to quality education.
In recent years, this anguish has led us to support a range of local and state reform efforts, including
* Suing the State of the New Jersey multiple times to require it to abide by its state Constitution and provide equitable, quality education to all of its children.

* Backing teacher tenure reform and the ability of parents to impose reform on schools in California.
* The reform of zero-tolerance policies in Florida, and the end of discriminatory discipline practices across the country
* The firing of all of the teachers at consistently failing Central Falls High School in Rhode Island
* Increasing the state education budget and decreasing the state incarceration budget in states as diverse as North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
In a country whose politicians and education advocates are increasingly ideological and partisan, we are an unwaveringly independent voice for treating all children fairly. We simply want good public schools, regardless of type, for all kids.
We tried for many months to avoid the current lawsuit against New York City about the separate and unequal treatment of children based on which school they attend in a particular school building. We have brought our suit because the situation is urgent and needs to be addressed immediately.
We are literally facing a tale of two schools, except these schools are often located in the same building - one a charter, one a traditional public school.

The charter school on one side of the hallway is freshly painted and supplied with new textbooks. The traditional public school has peeling paint and old, dated textbooks. Students in the charter school have more access to the library; those in the traditional public school have less. One school has children in proper classrooms; the other has kids in the basement. Some children have easy access to functional rest rooms; others do not.
Such disparities are forbidden under New York State law.
We know that requiring the city Education Department to comply with the law may not be popular in all corners of the city, but it is the only way to ensure that all children will be treated fairly.

The NAACP believes the city should prioritize fixing these inequities so that every child in New York City - not just the 4% who enter charter schools by lottery - has an opportunity to succeed academically, with an equal chance to reach for the American Dream.

Anything less allows unnecessary tensions to fester in communities. Such visible disparities pit parent against parent and student against student. It divides us when we need to be united in the essential struggle to create the kind of educational system that allows all of our children to flourish.

The situation in New York City is neither the fault of the charter schools nor the operators of those schools. It is not the fault of parents. It is the fault of past chancellors who have historically flouted the law, refused to engage parents and failed to invest in improving schools for all of New York's children.

In the past two years, we have won two lawsuits against New York City for failing to properly engage parents before attempting to close their schools.

We hope that in his new role as city schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott will ensure the city approaches this situation differently and more expeditiously.

As one of the lead participants in the lawsuit, we are open and eager to discuss all options for redressing the inequities, moving closer to a first-rate education for all of New York's children and ensuring all kids can attend their school of choice this fall.

The struggle of black parents to create a better life for their children is one that we at the NAACP have held close to our hearts since our founding more than a century ago. We know that a good education is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. There is no greater frustration than for a parent to know that there are no good schools for his or her child to attend in the neighborhood. Personally, I know the yearning as a father to give my daughter the best education possible.

It is this passion that has driven, and will continue to drive, our fight for all children.

Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.

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