On the NAACP/Teachers’ Union Lawsuit in NYC: There are Parents and Kids on Both Sides of the Debate

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. 

5 thoughts on “On the NAACP/Teachers’ Union Lawsuit in NYC: There are Parents and Kids on Both Sides of the Debate

  1. Gregory Rose

    It’s also a structural problem. The majority of schools are over crowded, and their are more and more young people who need to get a quality education. Unfortunately not all schools can give them one, and the DoE has forced better schools to take more kids. I wrote more about it here: link to bit.ly

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  2. Leonie Haimson

    Co-locations have been a disaster for NYC schools. With chronic overcrowding — a situation that is rapidly getting worse — we cannot afford to give up more space. Each co-location eats up classrooms with administrative and cluster spaces; many times this has led to the loss of libraries, art rooms, and science labs; and has pushed special needs kids into hallways and closets. Co-locations have sparked bitter battles between administrators, parents and teachers. It is a highly inefficient use of space and resources and a huge diversion from the focus we need to improve opportunities for all kids.

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  3. Gideon

    What about the middle ground: a district school that is not failing but is also not improving rapidly and enrolls students from its neighborhood. Often the public buildings that are targeted for co-location have mediocre district schools in them that do not come close to hitting max occupancy but have nonetheless spread throughout the building. The conflict comes when these schools are asked to actually limit themselves to the amount of space their enrollment suggests. No one likes to give up space, but these buildings have the capacity for both district and charters to share and benefit all of their students. Co-location has in fact not been a disaster; there are literally hundreds of co-located schools in public buildings in New York City, and most of them are not even charter schools. Once the politically-motivated screaming and protesting is over, most schools amicably share buildings and work out the use of common space.

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  4. Curtis Johnson2

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dana. Indeed, it is the NAACP’s goal to ensure the best possible education for the largest possible number of students.

    Here’s a clip from our General Counsel Kim Keenan that does an excellent job of outlining our stance: link to educationnation.com

    Again, thanks for your passion on this issue.

    Best,

    Curtis Johnson
    Online & Social Media Specialist
    NAACP

    Reply
  5. Paco Flaco

    I also agree that this is a fair and balanced assessment. However as Gideon has stated colocation is not a new thing for the NYC BOE. There are and have been inequitable shared space plans between 2 district schools sharing the same building, where was/is the outrage over this. I fear that since the charter school concept has been coopted by the right this has made them a target of actions such as this.

    Even if charter schools were to disappear off of the map the root problem would not disappear, but i am willing to bet that the firestorm would die down.

    Charter schools are not the answer to our problems with public education but they can serve 2 functions 1) serve as an R&D lab for the district schools as they are free of the red tape inherent in the BOE structure. What they do figure out and do well, replicate it as applicable.
    2) serve those children they do educate to the best of their ability.

    If a charter school is failing it needs to be closed down as well because as you say:
    “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.”

    Finally i am actually concerned with the settlement. Isn’t the core of the space allocation portion of this legal action to come up with a space planning exercise that is equitable and transparent. Simply ensuring that this year the district school students get to eat at 12 and the charter school students at 10 doesn’t seem to be getting at what this action is supposed to be targeting.

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