It is irresponsible to equate the values of parental empowerment and school choice today with the ugly history of Jim Crow. But Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP’s New York State conference, now is fighting back at school closures and charter school expansions in New York City with just such a message.
Dukes announced she would hold a counter protest tomorrow in front of the Harlem Success Academy, whose leaders last week led a rally asking why the nation’s oldest civil rights group would fight reforms designed to benefit poor blacks and Hispanics. Dukes said then, as she said today in a press release announcing the protest, that co-locating charter schools and traditional schools would be tantamount to “setting up separate and unequal education.”
The NAACP had every reason to be anxious of private school voucher plans and other choice schemes that grew out of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, as some southern school districts made it clear they would take advantage of those policies to resegregate public education in their states. But choice as its proposed in New York City today, as it is in several other states considering or implementing voucher or charter school options, provides options disproportionately to low-income black and Hispanic children that often come from impoverished single-parent households. Hazel Dukes can stand before Eva Moskowitz and appropriately challenge the Success Charter Network’s efforts without summoning the ugliest racial injustice in our nation’s history. Dukes has used her influential position to tarnish an important policy debate and, more disturbingly, has abandoned a large part of her constituency that is looking to the NAACP for support in this new age of public education.