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Award-winning teacher and professor Julian Vasquez Heilig responds to critics who say NAACP was misguided to pass a resolution condemning charters for increasing segregation and removing public control

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. The NAACP has come under fire for recently approving a resolution that cautions about the dangers of charter schools. The resolution says privately-managed charters remove public control and increase segregation, are more prone to punitive disciplinary measures, and, quote, researchers have warned that charter school expansion in low-income communities mirror predatory lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage disaster, putting schools and communities impacted by these practices at greater risk of loss and harm. Charter schools are publicly-funded, but often controlled by private or nonprofit entities. They’re not subject to the same regulations and governance as public schools. They’ve also proliferated since No Child Left Behind in 2001, and Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative of 2010. Now joining us to discuss this is Julian Vasquez Heilig. He’s an award-winning teacher, researcher, blogger, currently professor of educational leadership and policy studies, and a director of the doctorate in educational leadership at California State University Sacramento. He also serves as the California NAACP education chair. Thanks so much for joining us. JULIAN VASQUEZ HEILIG: So glad to be here today. NOOR: So we know that the NAACP has come out against charter schools before this, but this is the most, I guess, this is the most–the position you’ve taken in July has been the most outspoken against charter schools. And you know, you’ve been criticized for this. Folks like the education secretary have said charter schools, they promote choice, and it gives parents, especially black parents, low-income parents, a voice in their child’s future. Talk about why the NAACP passed this resolution, and let’s start going through some of the criticisms. HEILIG: Sure, great. So I think it’s important first to say that we know the NAACP has been the vanguard of civil rights for African-Americans in the United States for more than 100 years. This isn’t, like you said, the first thing the NAACP has said on charter schools over the years. In 2010 the NAACP first said that charter schools should not be our main focal point for education reform, and that we should really be focusing on properly resourcing urban public schools that serve African-American students. The second thing that you saw in this evolution of the NAACP was in 2014, the NAACP passed a resolution that was approved by the national board that said that essentially charter schools were part of the broader private control and privatization movement. And then, finally, just this year more than 2,200 African-Americans from across the United States, the delegates at the national convention, voted on this and said that we need to take stock. We need to look around. We need to take stock with charter schools. And we need a moratorium. I think that that’s a very important step, because what charter schools originally said was is that for more freedom, and they would have more accountability. But what we’ve actually seen is charter schools have gotten more freedom and less accountability. So I think it’s a very reasonable step for us to take stock on what’s happening with charter schools. NOOR: You know, I think for a lot of parents in places like Baltimore or New York, or across the country, charter schools do provide some hope, because they feel like the education system, public education is not helping. It’s not helping their children. So when they have to choose a school there’s often huge lines to get into charter schools, because they promise to be different. They promise to break the failed system that has failed so many communities around the country. So how do you–talk a little bit about how you respond to some of the criticisms. I was reading an education week blog, and you know, Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, he said we shouldn’t be fixing what’s broken–we should be fixing what’s broken and expanding what works, not preempting the choice of parents of color. Give us your [stance]. HEILIG: Well, Shavar Jeffries–I’ve offered Shavar Jeffries the opportunity to come to California. I also offered to come to Newark to debate this issue with Shavar Jeffries. But he initially accepted and declined. And I think part of the challenge is, is that the arguments in favor of charter schools, when you look very carefully at the data and research, they start to melt away. I think where I agree with Shavar Jeffries, and a lot of other folks that are education reformers, is that clearly our society has underserved black students, Latino students, Native American students, and many other poor students, on purpose. The nicer house you buy, the nicer public school you get. That’s really the elephant in the room, is that our society has decided that inequality is okay. And I think that’s where we agree. Where we disagree is what we do about that. What Shavar Jeffries and the Wall Street crowd and the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation and the Broad Foundation, there’s hundreds of millions of dollars behind the private control and privatization of public education. So that’s where we disagree. Where we would like to see this conversation go is how do we have community schools? How do we have community-based schools, community-based charters, inter-district charters, inter-governmental charters? I think that’s where we disagree. So they like to frame this conversation as, well, they’re the status quo. But actually, we have our own ideas for reform that are democratically-based and community-driven. And the reason why our parents are so unhappy is because this market system, the nicer house you buy the nicer public school you get, that market system is the very system that they’re seeking to use to remedy the inequality that that very system created. And so I think it’s key for us to have a very positive approach to educational policy that’s community-based, that’s democratically controlled. And that’s because we haven’t offered parents what they want in their local schools. If you look at polls of what parents want in their local schools, they want less testing. They want higher quality teachers. They want higher quality pre-K. They want AP courses. All of those things require resources. And unfortunately, for example in the state of Texas, the Supreme Court basically said that $25,000 in differences between classrooms of rich and poor is okay, which means hundreds of thousands of dollars of difference at the school level, which means millions of dollars in difference at the district level. So I agree with Shavar Jeffries and many of the education reformers, even the secretary, when they say that students in urban areas are being underserved. Where we differ is that they’re interested in private control and privatization of our schools, whereas I believe our school should be democratically controlled, and we should focus on community-based approaches to education policy. NOOR: And you know, I wanted to also get your response, because many would point out that some charter schools do really, really well, and they succeed at a high level. And so shouldn’t we be using some of the strategies that they implement? How do you respond to those arguments? HEILIG: Well, just as there are charter schools that are doing a great job, there are traditional public schools that are doing a great job, too. If you look at the 2009 CREDO study, what it showed was that 85 percent of students that were attending charter schools do not perform better than students that were attending traditional public schools. That’s 85 percent. So there’s a small minority of students. Well, Shavar Jeffries, Steve Perry and others, they actually didn’t like that 2009 study for that reason. So when they talk about the success of charter schools they like to talk about the 2015 CREDO study. What’s interesting is that study has showed that Latinos did 0.008 better in reading, and African-Americans did 0.05. Now, I don’t want to–I took eight stats classes at Stanford, so I don’t want to get too deep into the minutiae. But those are numbers that are larger than zero, but they’re barely larger than zero. And what we know from the research literature is that there are things that are much more effective than charter schools. For example, class size reduction and pre-K can have 400 percent to 1000 percent more impact than charter schools do, if you look at their impact in the research literature. So I think that that is really a sidetrack from the main conversation, which is that we have gold standards in the research literature. There’s no mystery what works. All you have to do is look at the other side of the tracks. You don’t have to go to Finland or Korea or Singapore. All you have to do is go to wealthy neighborhoods and see what they’re providing their children, and the money that they throw at education. And those are the same things that we should be providing in poor neighborhoods. The small class sizes, the AP courses, et cetera. NOOR: All right. I want to thank you so much for joining us. HEILIG: Thank you for having me. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.


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Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and blogger. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento. He also serves as the California NAACP Education Chair.