The NAACP vs. Black Schoolchildren
Apparently, the teachers come first.
By WILLIAM MCGURN
There are two ways to look at our big city public schools. The first way is to see them as institutions that give our children the tools they need to make their way in society. When the education is good, it is a great equalizer for those boys and girls without the advantages of wealth or social standing.
The second way to look at our big city public schools is this: as a vast jobs program for teachers.
Those who assume the first view find it hard to understand why it is so difficult to fire bad teachers, pay the good ones more, or close down failing schools. In the same way, they cannot understand why one of the nation’s oldest and most venerable civil rights organizations—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—would be suing with the United Federation of Teachers to stop New York City from closing about two dozen of its worst schools and opening charters. Even the Washington Post, which ran a terrific editorial criticizing the NAACP, called it a “mystifying decision.”
The truth is that the decision is not in the least mystifying. For those who understand that our big city public school systems have become jobs programs for teachers and administrators, the NAACP’s response makes perfect sense. That’s because there are many African-American teachers in these systems, many of whom presumably belong to the NAACP.
Yes, there are political and ideological affinities between the organizations. The NAACP has long been a key part of the same Democratic coalition of which the teachers unions are the most powerful component. Yes, on the 990 Forms filed by, say, the National Education Association you will find the occasional contribution to the NAACP. The NAACP, however, does not have to be bribed.
The reason is simple: The NAACP is doing in New York what the United Federation of Teachers is doing, and for the same reason: protecting the interests of its members.
Now, standing up for black teachers has an honorable chapter in the NAACP’s storied history. In 1938, for example, the NAACP filed a lawsuit in Norfolk targeting the discrimination of a school system that paid black teachers less than whites. The NAACP lost the first round, but two years later its agitation bore fruit when a federal appeals court came down on the side of another Norfolk teacher in a similar case.
Unfortunately, while black teachers no longer suffer from the kind of discrimination that kept them out of our public schools or working for less pay than whites, equal opportunity for black schoolchildren still lags behind. The NAACP’s own website is filled with the grim performance statistics. Still, when forced to choose between the teachers and those on the losing side of what President Obama recently called “the civil rights issue of our time”—the chance for a decent education—the NAACP has come out foursquare for the teachers.
That decision sent thousands of black moms and dads out to protest the NAACP in Harlem on May 26. For these parents, charters provide one of the few sources of hope. The charter population reflects this dynamic. According to the Center for Education Reform’s Annual Survey of America’s Charter Schools, 52% of charter students are minorities, 50% are at-risk, and 54% are considered poor.
What sets charters apart is that they are not in the excuse business. Take Boys’ Latin in Philadelphia, a charter whose student body is almost entirely African-American. In the Philly public schools, fewer than half the African-American young men will leave with a high school diploma. At Boys’ Latin, which had its first class graduate yesterday, almost all its students graduated, and almost all are going to college.
“Look, the issue should be educating children,” says David Hardy, the school’s chief executive officer. “Suppose somebody came up with a program that could educate a child without the intervention of teachers. If it worked, I’d be for it, even if it cost us some jobs.
“But they [the NAACP and the teachers unions] wouldn’t. They aren’t about learning. They are about jobs.”
Mr. Hardy has it right. In New York, the NAACP’s willingness to put the interests of black public school teachers above black students has been more obvious, not only because it’s been more blatant, but because it provoked a demonstration. In city after city, however, the NAACP has generally come down on the same side as the teachers unions when it comes to any threat to the status quo.
Many years ago, the teachers union leader Albert Shanker reputedly declared that “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Looks like the same now holds for the NAACP.
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