Tomorrow morning, if you pick up a copy of the Star-Ledger (chances are, you won't), you will see a big, fat, wet kiss to the KIPP/TEAM charter schools in Newark, right on the front of the "Perspective" section. The piece went on-line a few hours ago; you can comment if you would like...
But listen to this story before you do:
Over a month ago, I got an email from Diane Ravitch, the country's best known advocate for public education and most prominent critic of corporate-style education "reform." Diane cc'd it to me and Bruce Baker, a professor of education policy at Rutgers and my advisor in the PhD program there.
It seems that Julie O'Connor, the author of the Star-Ledger's piece, was looking for comments about KIPP/TEAM. Given Diane's stature and her well-known skepticism about charter schools, it's clear that O'Connor was looking for a contrary point of view.
Diane added a few remarks, but she also referred O'Connor to Bruce and me, knowing we've done scads of work on Newark's charters: see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (and that's just for starters).
Bruce and I then began an exchange with O'Connor, which I have reposted, in its entirety, below. Bruce did the reconstruction, and I added my original graphs.
Understand that Bruce is one of the busiest people I know, and I teach full-time while working on my doctorate. Nonetheless, we took a considerable amount of our time to explain, in great detail, why a simple "doing more with less" framework (yes, that is an exact quote from the piece) is far too simplistic and misleading when it comes to evaluating KIPP/TEAM.
You are welcome to come to your own conclusions based on this exchange. Here are mine:
- It's clear O'Connor was in the tank for KIPP/TEAM from the start. Several times, especially in response to Bruce, she either doesn't understand -- or chooses not to understand -- what we are saying. Several times, Bruce refers O'Connor to his blog posts; they are quite clear in their methodologies and sources, but it's as if O'Connor never even read them.
- KIPP/TEAM is feeding O'Connor talking points. She keeps returning to the same arguments in her exchange with us -- and these are the arguments that make it into the article. Over and over, she asks Bruce or me to rebut claims KIPP/TEAM is making, rather than acknowledging the separate points we are making. It's as if, in O'Connor's mind, the debate can only be waged on TEAM/KIPP's terms; any other points of view, no matter how valid, need not be discussed.
- O'Connor ignores the most controversial aspects of charter school expansion in Newark. Where is any mention in O'Connor's piece of Pink Hula Hoop, the byzantine real estate deal involving KIPP/TEAM first uncovered by Star-Ledger alumnus Bob Braun? What about the controversial discipline practices of the KIPP network? Or the reports of "weaknesses in KIPP Academy’s internal controls over financial operations"? Or the controversy over KIPP's attrition rates?
O'Connor glosses over the fact that KIPP/TEAM has substantial philanthropic support, one of the reasons the KIPP chain spends much more per student than comparable district schools. I'd like to think my comment below at least made her consider the possibility that this contributes greatly to the chain's "success." But in her piece, she breezily takes the charter's word that they don't spend more on operations, not bothering to confirm whether this is actually the case.
I'm going to have much more to say about this sorry exercise in "journalism." For now, however, let's let Bruce have the last word on how charter school propaganda is spread by willing saps like Julie O'Connor and the Star-Ledger:
I enter into this blog post knowing full well that this is a lose-lose deal. Rating and comparing school quality, effectiveness or efficiency with existing publicly available data is, well, difficult if not impossible. But I’m going there in this post.
Why? Well, one reason I’m going there is that I’m sick of getting e-mail and phone inquiry after inquiry about the same charter schools – and only charter schools – asking how/why are they creating miracle outcomes. I try to explain that there may be more to the story. The reporter then says that the charter school’s data person says I’m wrong – validating their miracle outcomes (despite their own data not being publicly available/replicable, etc. and often with reference to awesome outcomes reported in popularly cited studies of totally different charter schools).
That is exactly right. When "journalists" lazily regurgitate PR from charter schools, they do their readers a huge disservice.But we may be having our conversation about the wrong schools to begin with. The whole conversation starts perhaps with a call from the school’s own PR lackey to the local paper, along with a self-congratulatory press release, or alternatively, from the local news outlet itself following up on preconceived notions of which schools are doing miracle work (for a slow news day). It’s not just that it seems always to be about charter schools, but that it seems to be about the same charter schools every time. [emphasis mine]
More to come...
April 6, 2015
Baker to Reporter
Reporter to Baker
Baker to Reporter
Reporter to Baker
Baker to Reporter (w/head banging against desk)
Reporter (who clearly never bothered to read the original post)
Baker to Reporter (direct response to ignorant question)
More Exasperated Baker to Reporter
Weber to Reporter
[Note: I made this graph just for this exchange. That's how much I wanted O'Connor to understand my point.]