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Former NAACP President examines the relationship between public schools, communities, and charter schools

October 09, 2017

By Maria Biery C’18

On September 28, Penn Law and the Graduate School of Education co-hosted the Steven S. Goldberg and Jolley Bruce Christman Lecture in Education Law, which featured Cornell Brooks, former president of the NAACP. Brooks gave a feature lecture titled “False and Faustinan: Traditional School and Charter School Choices,” where he stressed the responsibility of communities to invest in their public school systems instead of opting for charter schools.

“The choices we face, I believe, have often been false and Faustian,” stated Brooks. “Quite often the choice has been you can wait on a public school system that will never be saved, or you can place your hopes, your dreams into the next generation, or the charter school that’s available to you through a lottery.”

Brooks and many others believe that the public school system has to be reinvigorated, which, as he related to the audience, played a role in the October 2016 NAACP decision to put a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.

Brooks explained that the moratorium had already passed in the California/Nevada Conference of the NAACP, and there was grassroots concern about the effects of charter schools on the public school system. Delegates to the NAACP were concerned with the ‘segregation’ of charter schools where those with obvious talents are often favored over those with less apparent gifts.

The delegates, in addition, were concerned about discipline. That is, students might be admitted through the lottery, but they are then weeded out through the disciplinary process.

“We find many of our most vulnerable citizens subject to unfair disciplinary practices,” stated Brooks.

The allocation of resources was another point of concern for the delegates. Brooks pointed out that the NAACP is in support of charter schools because those who argue for more resources for public schools, as the NAACP does, are also arguing for more resources to be allocated to any schools that apart of the mix, such as charter schools.

The NAACP is in full support of charter schools “that truly support the education of the whole, the breadth, and entirety of the public,” Brooks noted.

People aren’t necessarily concerned about public schools versus charter schools though, Brooks said. They are concerned about the education of their children, and that starts at the community level.

During the question and answer session, moderated by Wendell Pritchett, Penn’s Provost, Brooks talked about the loss of public schools as anchor institutions in communities.

“Where teachers are seen in the grocery store, in the street — they’re pillars of the community. That is not lost when you bring in teachers who live elsewhere, were not rooted in the community. That creates a great amount of community anxiety,” said Brooks.

Schools, in Brooks’ opinion, are successful when they prepare students for citizenship and leadership in their communities instead of as isolated individuals — with no family or community ties — who will compete in the workforce one day.