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Associated Press Carries Water For The Teachers Unions

Charter segregation story keeps focus off the dismal results in traditional public schools

The Associated Press is out with a new investigation that claims charter schools are among some of the most segregated schools in the country.

The story, which has been in the works for months, is part of a larger data project that AP has made available to local and national news outlets, which means you should expect to see similar stories popping up across the country. It also means that AP has given the teachers unions an early Christmas gift: a sizable rhetorical cudgel with which they can further bash charter schools.

AFT and NEA have been energetically pushing this charter segregation narrative, which is the latest manifestation of a broader communications strategy they’ve embraced in the past few years. When the Journey 4 Justice Alliance (which is little more than a union-funded front group) filed a series of specious civil rights complaints against the school systems in Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans back in 2014, I wrote that the actions seemed to herald “a cynical shift in strategy by reform opponents” to paint charters in a racially-divisive light.

Fast-forward to the present and it’s clear that my suspicions were correct. Last year, the Movement for Black Lives issued an education platform calling for a moratorium on charter schools that was authored by individuals from three organizations that are funded by the teachers unions. Soon thereafter, the NAACP (another recipient of significant financial support from AFT and NEA) issued its own demand for a moratorium. The organization’s Task Force For Quality Education also held a series of hearings across the country to explore the charter school question, even though the outcome of their investigation was all but pre-determined. Plus, earlier this summer, Randi Weingarten earned both headlines and condemnation for describing charters as the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation” in a speech at AFT’s annual convention.

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Of course, AFT and NEA’s newfound passion for issues of racial justice is little more than a farce. By conflating charters with segregation, they’re just trying to divert attention from actual segregation and failure (and their role in that failure) in traditional public school systems like Paterson, New Jersey, where only 10% of the district’s 28,000 students are white, but 90% are eligible for free/reduced lunch.

This past year, 91% of Paterson high school students failed the PARCC math test and 83% failed the language arts test; for elementary schoolers, the failure rates were 82% and 85%, respectively. At one high school, only two students (out of 584) got a passing score on the PARCC math assessment.

The depressing thing is that Paterson isn’t an isolated case. That’s why hundreds of thousands of low-income families of color are on charter school waiting lists across the country right now, desperately hoping for the chance to get their children out of their dismal traditional public schools.

According to the teachers unions’ perverse logic, these families are modern-day segregationists; in reality, they’re just the same old poor folks who always get screwed in our system. Shame on the Associated Press for giving this kind of nonsense credibility.

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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