The NAACP, at its national convention in Cincinnati, voted this July to support "a moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools." In Massachusetts, a local NAACP leader is campaigning against the charter-expansion referendum bill on the state ballot in November. Comparing charters to segregated schools, he shouted: "As Brown vs. the Board of Education taught us, a dual school system is inherently unequal."
Why have a number of civil rights groups joined the teacher-union opposition to charter schools? Figuring that one out is, to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, like solving "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Teacher unions have fought charters in cities and states across the country; currently, the Massachusetts Education Association is committing $11 million to its anti-charter campaign. Union opposition is quite understandable. Charters attract students away from school districts who bargain collectively with teacher unions. Most charters do not have collective bargaining agreements with their employees. Teacher pension and medical benefits are siphoning funds from classrooms at district schools, but are leaving charter schools largely untouched.
Union opposition to charters is backed up by the teachers themselves. My colleagues and I at Education Next, a journal of opinion and research, tracked teacher opinion on this issue as part of our just released education opinion survey administered last May and June to a nationally representative sample of 700 teachers and another 3,500 Americans. When we asked teachers whether they supported or opposed the formation of charter schools, 48 percent of teachers opposed them, while only 41 percent were supportive, the remainder saying they "neither support nor oppose."