What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Charter School Performance (Newark Edition)

I have been openly critical of much of the Newark reform efforts.

I also believe that Newark charter schools are delivering rich and rigorous educational experiences to many students.

It is a complicated education reform environment.

I had all of this in mind as I read Lyndsey Layton’s Washington Post piece on Newark education reforms.

I thought she got many things right, including the fact that many of the reforms had little evidence behind them.

Yet, for some reason, Layton wrote a 2,000 word piece without once mentioning a salient fact:

Rigorous research demonstrates that students who attend Newark charters schools achieve an extra year of learning compared to their traditional school counterparts.

An extra year of learning. It’s astounding data.

Newark is the second highest performing charter sector in the nation (after Boston).

I’m struggling to find an analogy here. But it’s somewhat akin to a reporter covering a disease ravaged country and not mentioning that 20% of the population has been cured by an innovative new medical treatment. Yes, there might be reasonable questions of whether or not the treatment can be scaled – perhaps there’s a shortage of doctors; perhaps the doctors handpicked the easiest to treat patients – but to not mention that the treatment exists would be poor journalism at best and unethical at worst.

So what do we talk about when we talk don’t talk about charter school performance?

We talk about presidential candidates; we talk about daytime television hosts; we talk about founders of tech companies.

I don’t know why Layton didn’t mention the CREDO Newark charter study. I was interviewed by Layton for her story on New Orleans, and while I took issue with some of the framing, I thought she got the data mostly right. I also found our conversation to be professional and productive.

So I don’t mean this to be a personal attack.

Rather, I think this type of reporting is emblematic of two unfortunate trends in education reporting.

First, education reporters too often do not have a firm enough grasp on the data for the issues which they are covering.

Second, too much of education reporting is about raising or lowering the status of specific individuals, rather than examining the root causes of school system dysfunction.

I hope this will change over time. And I hope I can play a role in raising these issues when I read pieces that fall into these traps. But I do worry that I’ll simply alienate the reporters I’m trying to influence.

It is difficult to provide direct feedback in public forums to people who you don’t know. But this is the world of journalism, I suppose.

Lastly, here’s the data:

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7 thoughts on “What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Charter School Performance (Newark Edition)

  1. Cozzi, John

    I went to a dinner last night in Newark with various KIPP boards where Campbell Brown spoke. One point she emphasized – when you see this pick up the phone and call the reporter and call it out. She said it was far more effective and intimidating (in a positive way for the caller) than you would think.

  2. crunchydeb

    Perhaps if the traditional public schools weren’t being starved and marginalized, the students in there could get good educations as well, rather than both groups being used as pawns in the Reform Game?

    Just a crazy thought.

  3. John

    Campbell Brown telling a group of upper middle class school reformers to call and intimidate education reporters. How progressive.

  4. Peter

    There is no such thing as measuring learning in years, and no “rigorous research” (produced by a charter advocacy group) can show that a student gained an “extra year” of learning. Any argument based on that assertion is just smoke and mirrors.

    1. nkingsl

      Credo has produced reports that show negative charter effects, and their methodology, if anything, underestimates effects (according to hobby)


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