The education myth-makers strike again

The Network for Public Education recently released one of the most inaccurate education reports I have seen in years. The group, founded by foes of all innovations in education, claimed the Department of Education has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on charter schools. My organization, the Center for Education Reform, has reviewed their report for credible evidence of any research base — none exists.

While it’s disappointing that the Washington Post and other outlets irresponsibly gave credence to the report, I’m grateful for the reminder we can’t let down our guard and blindly trust education research without proper scrutiny. Here are a few details about the group and the report missing from other coverage.

First, the Network for Public Education is not an impartial observer. They make it their business to destroy charter schools and other forms of educational opportunity that permit students to access better schools outside attendance zones. They even formed a lobbying group, NPE Action, to push for that goal. How they convinced reputable news organizations to print their falsehoods as facts is a question we all should ask. Not one dissenting voice or critique received air time.

Second, the report blatantly misrepresents the facts of charter school funding. The real story, of course, is a matter of data, knowing how to read the data and understanding how charter schools actually get startup grants and who manages them. The Network for Public Education’s report never even attempted to do so.

It’s true, some schools do close after receiving federal grants. The Center for Education Reform has studied this for 15 years. But the culprit isn’t “Big Education,” it’s just the opposite. The majority of these schools were actually authorized by school districts, which are well-known for creating their own charters just to draw down federal funds. Then they close or consolidate them and keep the funds. To blame this tactic on charter schools is either shockingly ignorant or intentionally dishonest.

Third, the report combines selective data about monies received with misleading allegations. For example, the report applies the “wasted” money moniker to a Maine charter that is thriving today. The report also argues the reviewers of the Maine charter application had “technical issues.” These anti-charter folks don’t even understand reviews of applications are far more complicated than a simple score. They don’t tell you about the school’s success with those limited funds.

The report also cites numerous Office of Inspector General investigations, filed by charter opponents, “uncovering” spending, like Knowledge is Power Program staff retreats involving travel and alcohol — oh my! Sure, KIPP students outscore the national average (and their local competitors) in every grade and every subject, but their teachers enjoy one another’s company at a retreat. What is the world coming to?

One wonders where the scorn and accusations are about the countless district boondoggles to conference resorts where fees cover every manner of entertainment. While that would be an interesting analysis, it’s not anti-charter — and thus won’t get published.

Finally, the report cites the American Civil Liberties Union’s 15-year campaign of assaulting charters through the court system with baseless allegations of “barriers to enrollment” — allegations that routinely fail in court. The report even lambastes Idaho’s American Heritage Charter School for mentioning “patriotism” on its website.

If the Network for Public Education has decided patriotism is unacceptable in any school receiving public funds, one has to wonder what exactly our students are learning in civics class.

In example after example, the authors use “stories” about schools whose programs or policies they dislike as evidence money is “wasted” and bad things happen. And this qualifies as news? If the authors of this report were once educators, it’s a good thing they’re no longer in the classroom.

But there’s some good news: Parents, charter teachers, and many policymakers put reality first, and they know a hit job when they see one. They know charter schools are the most accountable public education reform in history — they’re responsible for their performance to parents, to taxpayers, and, most importantly, to students whose lives have dramatically changed wherever charters thrive. The Network for Public Education and its peers may tell their stories about the evils of charter schools, but parents and students will keep coming back — aren’t they the ones we should focus on?

Jeanne Allen is the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform.

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