*NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous was dismayed at the vehemence of the rage, verbal tirades, and demonstrations against the NAACP for joining with the United Federation of Teachers to stop a handful of charter schools in and near Harlem from opening or expanding at and in public school buildings, “We just had no idea how much tension it would create, said Jealous.”

The NAACP simply regarded the suit as a way to prevent the loss of funds and space for already chronically under-funded and cramped inner city public schools.

The NAACP in its lawsuit did not say or even imply that charter schools were a bad thing. They did not say that the schools should not open.  But despite the care the NAACP took to not excoriate charter schools, it still took the heat.

The old debate over charter schools versus public schools is just too volatile, contentious, and frustrating not to stir passion. That’s been the case since the first charter school opened nearly two decades ago in Minneapolis.

Charter schools were hailed in the those days by an armada of educational innovators, conservatives, school choice advocates, and a coterie of millionaire and billionaire philanthropists, and, celebrities as the panacea for miserably failing inner city public schools.

Charter schools so the boosters claimed would reduce or even end the astronomically high drop-out rates of black and Latino students, lift test scores, hike achievement levels, instill academic discipline, and motivate and inspire parents to get more involved with their children’s education.

The ultimate pay-off was that it would be the path to college for tens of thousands of black and Latino students that would otherwise not have a prayer of getting near a college.

During the next decade a handful of stellar, high achieving charter schools were showcased and paraded before the nation as proof that charters could if not replace public schools at least offer a viable alternative to them, and therefore they needed to be bankrolled with taxpayer dollars, touted by government officials, and teacher unions need to soften their opposition to them. The troubling questions that charter schools drained millions from public schools already starved for funds and resources, siphoned off quality teachers and administrators from the public school system, cherry picked the best students to inflate their success stories while leaving the overwhelming majority of underperforming students out in the cold, offered few if any union wage, tenure and health benefits and protections, were brushed aside as just ploys by teachers unions to keep lousy teachers on the job, fatten union dues, and protect the union’s bargaining power and influence.

The tout of charter schools at the expense of public schools, as the attack on the NAACP showed, isn’t just made by pro school choice conservatives. Legions of mostly poor and working class black and Latino parents have also demanded that their children have the same right to a quality education as middle-class whites, and if it takes a charter school with public money and government backing to get it than they’re willing to fight hard for it. The burning desire of these parents for good quality schools is certainly understandable, and must be supported. And the charter schools that deliver the goods, meaning those that demonstrate measurable student high achievement, insure job protections, and good wage and benefits for teachers and administrators, and do not pick and choose only the students that are deemed potentially high achievers should be applauded.

But that doesn’t negate the major argument and flaw in charter schools and that’s that countless numbers of charter schools that have cropped up in the past few years on the public dime have been miserable failures. Several studies have shown that the test and achievement scores of their students aren’t much higher than the scores and achievement levels of students in public schools. Many of these charter school students are taught by woefully unprepared and incompetent teachers and are run by clueless administrators. These failed schools have dashed the hopes of tens of thousands of black and Latino parents that have looked to charter schools to be the miracle cure for their children’s miserable underachievement. These studies have been roundly attacked by charter school advocates as too limited, too biased and promote a liberal or teacher’s union agenda. But the studies have been fairly broad based and their authors had no ties to teachers unions.

The NAACP officials in defending its lawsuit did not point to these and other studies that show charter schools can be just as mediocre or worse than public schools to make a case against charter schools. Jealous, in fact, insisted that charter schools do have a place in the educational arena for minority students. But that place should not be at the expense of public schools. No matter how well charter schools perform the bitter reality is that public schools will always be the school of first and only choice for the vast majority of black and Latino students.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

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