When 2,500 Harlem protesters yesterday challenged the NAACP’s involvement in a lawsuit against school closures and charter school expansions in New York City, they joined a growing chorus of confusion that fails to grasp why the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights group continues to fight school reforms that disproportionately benefit minorities.
Chiefly, one of the school leaders most confused by the NAACP’s opposition to education alternatives is New York City’s new chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott. Last year, in a column published in the New York Post, Walcott wrote:
More than 50 years ago, another education lawsuit asserted the rights of children of color. Brown v. Board of Education affirmed the right of citizens to an equal education when the Supreme Court found that school segregation is a violation of the right to equal protection under the law. That was the civil-rights issue of that day.
And yet, more than half a century later, we are still failing to protect the interests of our African-American and Latino children. Here in New York City, the graduation rate for African-American and Latino students is rising, but it remains just over 50 percent. These outcomes reflect a crisis that is devastating our communities. It is the civil-rights issue of our time …
… Continuing to send students to failing schools, especially when we know how poor the odds are that they will succeed in those schools, and when we have evidence that we can do better, represents a fundamental violation of the civil rights of our children of color and their families.
For decades, the civil-rights movement fought in the courts on behalf of African-American and Latino children. This time, the battlefield in the fight for social justice should be the classroom, not the courtroom.