There's been a lot of discussion in the media about the NAACP/United Federation of Teachers lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education, seeking to block it from closing 22 low-performing schools and co-locating charter schools within another 20 public school buildings.
"It's the NAACP vs. School Kids" declared the Daily News headline on an op-ed this morning by schools Chacellor Dennis Walcott. In the Washington Post, Kevin Chavous demanded that the NAACP "put the education of children first and…stop supporting the status quo." GOOD magazine's Cord Jefferson wrote that the lawsuit leaves the NAACP "with egg on its face." And at Time, Andy Rotherham noted that the suit "sparked a remarkable counter-protest by families in Harlem and the NAACP was roundly criticized for its bizarre stance, which apparently owes more to politics than kids."
While it's true that New York NAACP President Hazel Dukes has engaged in some bizarre and offensive rhetoric in defense of the suit–and that the NAACP and the teachers' union have longstanding political and financial ties–it is disingenuous to claim that there are no real families who support these organizations' attempt to roll-back school-closings and make charter school co-locations more equitable.
In April, 100 public school kids, the vast majority of them African American and Latino, protested the opaque school closing process in front of City Hall. In January, 800 parents, students, and teachers showed up at a Brooklyn meeting to protest Mayor Bloomberg's policies, among them the concentration of special needs and ESL students at the very same neighborhood schools that are so often slated for closing or co-location due to low test scores. Walcott has faced protesting parents at many of his public events.
These people are just as real as the charter school parents who have also protested in support of their childrens' schools.
As this excellent Michael Winerip piece about my own Brooklyn neighborhood makes clear, all too often co-location proposals end up pitting parent against parent, and the teachers' union against politically well-connected charter school operators and advocates.
I believe these situations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If a neighborhood school has declining enrollment and empty classrooms, it might make sense for a high-achieving charter school to share its space. But if a neighborhood school is improving rapidly and successfully attracting a diverse student body, it is foolish to halt its progress by demanding it give up space to a competitor. The overall goal should be an excellent education for as many children as possible, including the vast majority who never enter a charter school lottery, as well as those who do enter but don't win one of the small number of seats available at the best charters.
As for this particular lawsuit, the good news, as GothamSchools reports, is that a settlement could be possible. In response to the suit, the Department of Education is revising its co-location plans to more equitably divide access to shared cafeterias, libraries, and gyms. Ideally, of course, these sorts of negotiations between policy-makers and stakeholders would take place way earlier in the process. But it's difficult to have a sane convesation if both sides claim that only they represent the best interests of children.