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Misleading NYTimes Headline on Charters

June 25, 2013

The headline in my NYTimes Alert in-box got my attention: “Charter Schools Are Improving A Study Says”. Expecting to read about a marked increase in charter school test scores, I instead read this summary the “improvement” over the past four years:

The original (Stanford) study, conducted four years ago, showed that only 17 percent of charter schools managed to raise student math test scores above those of local public schools. The new report said that 29 percent of charter schools performed better in math than local public schools.

And while the 2009 study showed 37 percent of charter schools were actually providing a worse education than local public schools, that figure declined to 31 percent in the new report.

“At both ends of the quality curve, we see that the situation is getting better,” said Margaret Raymond, the center’s director.

So… 29% of charter schools are better than their public school counterparts and 31% are worse and “…the situation is getting better”. Better for whom? The parents in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and New York whose kids are being forced out of “failing” neighborhood schools into for-profit charters? The students whose parents are enticed to enroll their children in “better” charter schools only to find that in 31% of the cases they are attending a worse school and in 71% of the cases they aren’t getting any improved schooling (as measured by standardized tests) and perhaps getting a more minimal curriculum in order to improve their test scores?

The article did note that the results might provide fodder for charter opponents and offered one paragraph that did just that:

“Twenty years after the start of the charter school movement, even with all the private energy and public policy cheerleading it has engendered, students in charter schools roughly perform the same as students in the rest of public education — not the leaps and bounds that were promised,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

This counterpoint, though, reinforces the narrative that unions oppose charters while “reformers” support them… a narrative that overlooks the many progressive educators who decry the charter movement because it is joined at the hip with the testing regimen and because it undermines the neighborhood schools and it is anti-democratic.

In the end, though, it is the headline that is most problematic from my perspective. The person who writes the article doesn’t get to decide on the headline… that falls to the editor… and given the NYTimes editorial support for Bloomberg’s shift to charter schools it is not surprising to see a headline that states unqualified “improvement” when nearly 3/4 of the charters are no better than or worse than their public school counterparts and there are as many “failing” charters as there are “successful” charters… I don’t think the public would buy a medication that had a similar track record…

 

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