On the Wrong Side of History
RiShawn Biddle's take on this:
During its century of existence, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has rightfully and successfully tangled with Jim Crow segregationists, school districts opposed to racial integration, even famed (or notorious) Hollywood director D.W. Griffith and his film, The Birth of a Nation. But these days, the nation's oldest civil rights group finds itself at odds -- and on the wrong side of history -- with two groups with whom it should be naturally allied: America's school reform movement -- and a younger generation of African Americans.
The latest example came last week when 2,500 parents of students attending New York City's public charter schools -- most of whom are black and Latino -- held a protest against the NAACP's New York branch just a block away from one of its local offices.
…The protest -- which included the appearance of such big-name reformers and celebrities as Seth Gilliam -- who played the dedicated Baltimore cop Ellis Carter in The Wire -- and Geoffrey Canada (who's successful Harlem Children's Zone collection of charters were profiled in the Davis Guggenheim documentary, Waiting for 'Superman') -- proved to be embarrassing to the NAACP. It was even more embarrassing when the president of the New York State branch found herself pleading its case after 20 concerned parents showed up at its posh Avenue of the Americas office.
This is just the latest example of the NAACP being out of touch. Earlier this year, its branch in Mississippi opposed a bill that would allow charter schools to open in school districts throughout the state. Even amid evidence that just 51 percent of traditional public schools in the Magnolia State were fit for kids to attend -- and in spite of the fact that just six out of every ten black high school freshmen (and six in ten freshmen of all races) graduate from high school four years later, the chapter's president, Derrick Johnson, declared that allowing more charters would "create and maintain a permanent situation of second-class citizens."
The NAACP has been even more vocal in its opposition to other reform measures -- including vouchers, which allow poor parents (especially those from black communities) to escape the nation's dropout factories and academic failure mills. In Pennsylvania, the NAACP is opposing athat would allow companies to collect a tax break in exchange for financing private-school tuition for poor children, declaring that the state should bolster school funding instead of providing an "evacuation strategy" for students to flee abysmal schools. By the way, those students would include the mostly black kids in Philadelphia, whose school district has been under state control for a decade; between 2001 and 2009, the percentage of eighth-graders promoted to senior year of high school declined from 74 percent to 60 percent.
The NAACP has even found itself squaring off with President Barack Obama, whose administration has aggressively (if not always successfully) pushed for overhauling the nation's woeful traditional public schools. Last year, it teamed up with the National Urban League and a smattering of other old-school civil rights groups to issue a manifesto decrying Obama's efforts -- including the Race to the Top initiative, which, among things, successfully pushed states such as California and New York to expand the number of charter schools -- demanding that the administration back their array of warmed-over measures instead. Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan repaid them in kind by rhetorically smacking them around for failing to realize the importance of their efforts.
There are some dissident NAACP branches that have embraced school reform. But for the most part, the civil rights group has all but abandoned its mantle as a leading force in the debate over how to reform the nation's lackluster public school systems. In the process, it is also losing relevance with a younger generation of blacks -- many of which are now bearing children and sending them to school -- who know all too well that just one out of every two black men every graduate from high school and who understand the consequences of academic failure. Over the past decade, they, along with celebrities such as singers John Legend and Fantasia Barrino, have backed efforts to expand charter schools and other reforms, all but leaving the NAACP behind.
…Thanks to its thoughtless defense of traditional public education, the NAACP's proud legacy is collecting as much dust as old W.E.B. Du Bois-edited copies of The Crisis.