Black Education Reformers Step Up


(This blog usually discusses healthcare reform but some other subjects really light my fire. One of those is school choice.)

School choice is unpopular with liberal Democrats because it threatens traditional supporters like teachers unions and black political organizations like the NAACP. Yet improved education remains the surest way to escaping poverty for black and other minority children. Too often those who claim to represent these minority children are turning their backs on what’s best for them in favor of their political agenda.

I wrote of this issue in a past blog called School Choice is Making a Difference. Readers of that post will recall that the hero of that story is Eva Moskowitz, the founder of a chain of charter schools serving the needs of the minority children of Harlem. Her efforts to improve the education of these children have been hampered by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, The American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

But there is hope this may be changing. Black education reformers are stepping up and being counted even when their views contradict the Democratic Party line. Jason Riley, The Wall Street Journal columnist, writes of this in a recent column.

Riley says the Associated Press published a hit piece earlier this month that blamed charter schools for perpetuating racial segregation. This was another in a series of such attacks by the liberal media on school choice. But now others on the political left are pushing back.

Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocate for school choice, questioned the reporter’s methodology, among other issues. Jeffries says, “The AP makes apples-to-oranges comparisons that contrast the demographics of individual charter schools to those of entire cities. This ignores the blatantly obvious fact that charter schools are concentrated in neighborhoods with high proportions of students of color to provide them an alternative to the low-performing traditional pubic schools they previously had no choice but to attend.”

Jeffries was even more incensed by the implication that somehow black students couldn’t succeed unless there were more white students. He said, “There’s no doubt there are benefits for students who attend racially diverse schools, but we take issue with the assumption that black and brown children can’t learn unless they attend school alongside white children.”

An even more harsh criticism came from Amy Wilkins of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. She took umbrage at the implication that school choice proponents like herself have made common cause with the racial segregationists of yesteryear.

Ms. Wilkins has a civil-rights pedigree that few could question. She is the daughter of Roger Wilkins, the black political activist, journalist and academic, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. She is the niece of Roy Wilkins, who led the NAACP in the 1950s and ‘60s, when the Jim Crow laws were still in effect. Wilkins has spent her entire adult life as an outspoken advocate for black children.

The problem, wrote Wilkins, “isn’t one article, however off-base it may be. The problem is the mindset of revanchists who peddle stories like these – professional anti-reformers who go nuts when approaches other than those they sanction and control deliver results for the students . . . they insist cannot learn at high levels.”

Riley says that black parents simply want better schools, and the strong demand for education choice among low-income families stems from the persistent failure of traditional public-school systems to provide a decent education for their children.

Wilkins goes on: “There is no comparison – none – between the enforced segregation of the pre-Brown v. Board era and the choices black families make when they enroll their children in better schools. It’s ludicrous to suggest the two are in any way similar. In fact, it’s far closer to the spirit of Jim Crow to tell a black student that she has to go to her dismal neighborhood school because the better charter school up the street is not white enough to satisfy the defenders of the status quo.”

I am excited to see this internal debate within the Democratic Party as education reformers like Jeffries, Wilkins, and Riley take on the establishment that has consistently put political agendas ahead of the needs of minority children. The clear winners in the school choice movement are these minority children and it’s time their representatives stopped kowtowing to the teachers unions and started looking out for the children they claim to represent.

Wilkins minces no words in her disdain for such people:

“To the people trying to fabricate a segregation story to deny black students educational opportunity, I have a simple message: Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare try to take away choices black families have fought for. Don’t you dare tell black families that you know better than they do what kind of school their children should attend. Don’t you dare call yourself social justice warriors while undermining the work of black school leaders and educators who are building something better for their communities.”


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