New York City has become the latest battleground in the national fight for education equality.
In some schools, hallways serve as a stark dividing line. Classrooms with peeling paint and insufficient resources sit on one side, while new computers, smartboards and up-to-date textbooks line the other. One group of students is taught in hallways and cramped basements, while others under the same roof make use of fully functional classrooms.
New York City has increasingly resorted to co-locating charter schools inside existing public school buildings as way to cut costs. When handled improperly, co-location can lead to visible disparities, division and tension among students. In many instances, traditional students are forced into shorter playground periods than their charter school counterparts, or served lunch at 10 am so that charter students can eat at noon. The inequity is glaring, and it is certainly not lost on the students themselves.
Throughout our history, the NAACP has fought for equal educational opportunities for all Americans. When we saw inequality in school districts from Los Angeles, Cali. to Topeka, Kan., we never hesitated to fight for what was right. Today, the fight continues in the nation’s largest school district.
The struggle of Black parents to create a better life for their children is one we cherish. We know that a good education is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. There is no greater anguish for a parent than to live in a community where there are often little to no choices of a quality school. As a father, I personally know the yearning to give my daughter the best education possible. This is what makes us responsible, loving parents. Our commitment is to continue the historic fight for a quality education for all, but even as we wage that important effort, we support parents who are able to find a good education for their child – whether at a traditional or charter public school.
Last month, after a year of attempts to negotiate with the New York City Department of Education to correct these inequalities after they lost to us in court, the NAACP was forced to go to court again to compel them to comply with state law.
Our return to court has triggered a smear campaign against the NAACP. In recent days we have faced a coordinated media attack designed to distort the conversation and inaccurately cast us as opponents of charter schools, which we are not. Unable to dispute the facts of the case, they’ve chosen to cast aspersions on the NAACP, to question our motivations, and to sling mud at our legacy.
This is a tactic meant to silence the NAACP, but we will not be silenced.
The NAACP will always work for the day when all students can access high-quality public education. We will not tolerate the neglect of the hundreds of thousands of families depending on traditional public schools, nor will we stand by as public schools are illegally closed, communities are ignored in defiance of the law and student success is left to chance.
And we will never be silenced by attacks on our reputation.
As the largest public school system in the United States, New York City is often viewed as a trend-setter on issues of education. Co-location schemes are being considered in other states and counties nationwide, from Florida to Texas. The city is acting irresponsibly by allowing blatant inequality and lax enforcement of the law. We are determined to stand against this bad precedent before it spreads to other school systems.
The NAACP has always believed that educating children in a separate and unequal system that provides a quality education to the lucky few at the expense of the many is the wrong kind of education. We will continue to fight, as we always have, for equal opportunity for all.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.