2 Things the NAACP Got Right on Charter Schools

While I think there is a lot wrong with the NAACP’s look at charters, they did get two things right.

One is a substantive policy that we should take up, and the other is more of an admission that hopefully will lead us to a better conversation and meaningful action.

First, let’s look at the policy recommendation: ending for-profit charters.

1. For-Profit Charters Have No Place in Public Education

There is no profit to skim from public schools without hurting kids. When private firms are focused around profit, all sorts of mischief ensues.

Further, there is no evidence that for-profit charters increase learning—in fact they seem to deliver worse results than traditional public schools or nonprofit charter public schools.

Just look at the stats on achievement in the for-profit charter sector, which at best is middling and at worst is “abysmal.” Here in California, our experience with the very small for-profit sector is similarly dismal, with a range of fiscally and academically scandalous outcomes.

In my own experience I have seen sketchy practices from the few for-profits I have encountered. Things like loaning money to the school for facilities at exorbitant rates, or selling services of dubious value to charter school boards that deliberately aren’t equipped to exercise oversight and where outspoken and ethical educators can be shown the door for standing up for kids or the community.

Schools cannot serve two masters, and when profits and services compete—kids and families tend to lose.

Thankfully all of our charter public schools in Oakland are run by local not-for-profits, and there are actually very few for-profit charters in California. But we should ban for-profits from running the schools altogether.

In fact, this should actually be an easy one to agree on. When I asked the California Charter Schools Association about their stance—I was a little surprised—they supported a ban.

Sadly, though, it’s not that easy, as some folks would rather play politics than get to agreement (more on this in a later blog).

I have not seen a single, fact-based argument for charter schools run by for profit companies. And I challenge anyone to argue for them on the facts. Seriously, I will even publish it here on the blog.

The NAACP is right: For-profit charters should be banned.

2. This Charter School Debate Is a Distraction

No sector is serving Black children well over all—not traditional public schools, not charter public schools, not private schools or even homeschools—nothing. The numbers tell the story.

And despite all the time and energy devoted to charter bashing, they make up a tiny proportion of the schools (dis)serving Black kids.

So why is there a focus on this 7 percent of schools when it diverts needed attention from the other 93 percent of public schools?

The NAACP has only perpetuated this problem through the process of creating this report, but thankfully they do acknowledge the issue, buried pretty deeply in the report. Here is how Chalkbeat summarized it:

Perhaps ironically after devoting an entire report to the topic, the NAACP suggests that charter schools may be a distraction: “It is a concern that charter schools have had a larger influence on the national conversation about how to improve education in communities of color than these other well-researched educational investments.”

Graduation rates and achievement for Black students, while pitiful, are better than they have ever been. We’ve got to focus on Black student achievement everywhere, in every school. You could get rid of every charter school tomorrow and it would not help the Black community a whit.

In fact I think you would have revolt on your hands from some Black parents, who are being relatively well served by their charters.

There is a raging fire and here we are, arguing about where to spray the hose—with the NAACP focusing on only one room as the house is consumed by flames.

The Charter Association Suit Against OUSD and what it Means for Oakland Kids

Push came to shove today as the California Charter Schools Association filed suit against OUSD for its alleged failure to follow the law in providing charter school students equal public facilities.  Most probably don’t know it but Proposition 39 created a legal right for public school students in charter-run schools to attend “reasonably equivalent” district facilities.  Something CCSA is saying Oakland failed to do, and looking at the press release, it doesn’t seem like the District has much of a case.

For those who have followed the drama at Westlake, where a principal is leaving and some have tied that to a possible charter school co-location at that site, this again is back to Prop. 39.

So while I don’t know anything about the specifics at Westlake, it’s important that we understand the backdrop here.

Charter school students are public school students, and they have the right and should get the benefit of public facilities, especially in a District like Oakland where there are a lot of underutilized public buildings.

If not, charters have to look on the open market for space, and while there is some subsidy from the State, in the 6 schools I surveyed, net space costs per student ranged from $203.61 at the low end to $1215.11 at the high end.  This is money that could go into hiring staff, and serving students, but it goes to landlords.

And charter students already get less money per student from the State (about 7% in the last real analysis I saw) according to the Legislative Analyst and don’t get the roughly $500 per child that comes from Measure G in Oakland.  So I know this may be a surprise, and yes, SOME, charters raise significant money privately.  But all charters are at a structural disadvantage in terms of state and local funding, and having to identify, renovate, and manage private facility is both resource drain and a time suck.

We have shown before that students at charter-run and district-run Oakland schools are roughly demographically equivalent.  Students at charters are somewhat more likely to be low income, and students at district-run schools are slightly more likely to have identified special needs and to be learning English.  Check the numbers.

There is Space

Oakland also has some severely underutilized buildings, according to its own data.  When I looked at utilization of the current turnaround schools, to argue that some of them might benefit from expanding the grades served, and that it was feasible given facilities—here’s what I found;

school Utilization rate
Frick 28.9%
Brookfield 79.3%
Castlemont 45.5%
Fremont 74.1%
McClymonds 34%


The majority of these schools are less than half full.  And according to the CCSA press release, OUSD is now serving 12000 fewer students than it previously did, without making those seats available to students in charter-run schools.  So there is slack space.

Where offers were made, they seemed to be substandard.  With most district offers providing multiple sites and one offer was for seven different schools buildings.

So you may have first grade at school A, use the gym at school B, have 3rd and 4th grade at school C, etc., for seven different school sites.  Which obviously is not workable nor “reasonably equivalent” to district-run schools.

Children at charter-run schools are public school kids, their families pay taxes to support the schools, as we all do, and I don’t think any of us are picking and choosing which public school kids should get fairly funded and which should not.  They deserve public facilities and the resources in the classroom to serve them.

So, it’s unfortunate that it has come to a lawsuit, but there should not be any second class public school kids and  I hope the bureaucracy in Oakland will make equal facilities for all Oakland public school children more than just empty promises in an ignored law.