The Black Lives Matter movement and a host of related groups recently issued education-policy “demands” that demonstrate that not all the lives of black children matter to the group.
In the preamble of the BLM demands, the group uses language that seems drawn straight from teacher-union talking points. BLM talks about “an international education privatization agenda,” which sounds very similar to a recent National Education Association tweet claiming, “Privatization is a global threat to public education.” And like the NEA, the BLM authors believe that deregulated public charter schools are an instrument of this feared privatization agenda.
Despite the fact that charter schools are government funded and must receive initial and periodic approvals by local school boards, the fact that charters can be operated by private education management organizations causes BLM to froth about “corporate school reformers” who turn schools into “test subjects of experimental, market-based education reforms.” BLM thus demands “a moratorium on charter schools.”
In a hypocritical twist, The Atlantic reports that a child of Jonathan Stith, one of the authors of the BLM demands, is “enrolled in a charter school.” Yet, Stith told the publication that his desire to eliminate charters “comes from a lived experience” - whatever that means.
What empirical research shows is that the lived experience of black children in charter schools has been very positive.
A 2015 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that low-income black students in urban charter schools had higher achievement in math and reading than their peers in traditional public schools.
Looking across all 41 urban regions examined in the study, the Stanford researchers found, “Black students in poverty (in charter schools) receive the equivalent of 59 days of additional learning in math and 44 days of additional learning in reading compared to their peers in (traditional public schools).”
Urban charter schools were also more effective for black students who were not from low-income backgrounds. The Stanford study found that black students not in poverty gained the equivalent of 43 additional days of math learning and 29 additional days of reading learning in urban charter schools compared with similar students in traditional public schools.
Charter schools in cities such as Newark, N.J., New Orleans and Memphis, Tenn., which have large black populations, had some of the largest impacts on student achievement.
Further, the study found that charter schools in heavily black Detroit, the District of Columbia, and Newark have “small shares of low-performing (charter) schools and a majority of charters outperforming their local traditional public schools.”
Yet, despite this overwhelming evidence that charter schools help improve the learning of black students, BLM would cut off this educational lifeline to the very children and parents for whom they purport to speak.
Why would BLM throw black children overboard? It is instructive to note that Hiram Rivera, one of the authors of the BLM document, is executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union, which has received funding from the American Federation of Teachers.
Also, the NEA and the AFT are members of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which is listed in the BLM document as a resource on education policy.
In addition, the NEA has passed a resolution supporting BLM and the head of the union has said, “The NEA is honored to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” No wonder the BLM document specifically worries about how privatization would “destroy organized labor.”
The authors of the Stanford charter-school study concluded: “(T)hese charter sectors clearly refute the idea that some groups of students cannot achieve high levels of academic success. They need only to be given the opportunity.”
Black Lives Matter would destroy that opportunity and, along with it, the lives of thousands of black children.
Lance Izumi is Koret senior fellow in education studies and senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.