Learning First Alliance

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Alert the Media

vonzastrowc's picture

Education Sector's charter school report has not yet got the media's attention, and that's bad news.

For those of you who don't already know, the report questions the ability of the best Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) to expand without damaging their schools' quality. And the final report is much tamer than the original draft, leading some to argue that Education Sector censored the report to please its patrons.

This tussle has gotten attention in some quarters. Blogger Alexander Russo was the first to report that something was amiss. Blogger Marc Dean Millot found and published the original draft. Deborah Viadero at Education Week wrote a story on the controversy. Linda Perlstein covered it in her blog. Tom Hoffman zeroed in on one of the most startling passages in the original draft. And Millot questioned Education Sector's ethics.

But only education insiders got to see any of this. The report has yet to make a ripple outside the eduworld.

Note to journos: This is a great story. Neither version of the report will make everyone happy. The biggest opponents of charter schools hardly come away unscathed in Toch's draft. And, as I've noted before, the final version should be enough to curb the enthusiasm of politicians and pundits who are peddling charter expansion as some kind of magic pill.

But the story goes way beyond possible indiscretions at Education Sector. Think tanks are often in the opinion business. When they do original research, we have to treat that research with caution. Education Sector seemed different from most. The outfit produced lucid, compelling and balanced reports even though staff members let their opinions fly freely on its two blogs. The current drama over the CMO report shakes that credibility.

But I'm more concerned about the news media than about the think tanks. We all know that think tanks can lean this way or that, but we expect more from the press. So far, they've been very disappointing.

Search online for news about the EdSector report, and you'll find the EdWeek story and a handful of blog postings. That's it. Of course, Education Sector doesn't seem to be promoting the report much or at all. Maybe they saw the scuffle coming. But their in-house blog Eduwonk.com didn't even mention it. What's worse, on the very day Education sector released the report, Eduwonk crowed over cheery charter school data released by another group, the charter-friendly Center on Education Reform.

But I would still expect the press to pay closer attention. When Caroline Hoxby's forceful study praising New York City charter schools appeared, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal tripped over each other to run editorials proclaiming the debate about charters over. Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow. Those newspapers were far more sluggish in reporting the results of Stanford's CREDO study, which painted a much darker picture of charter school quality. You can debate the relative merits of each report, but at least acknowledge the debate.

In either form, the Education Sector report is newsworthy. It's almost a foregone conclusion in Washington and many places besides that charter expansion is our ticket out of the education doldrums. Don't Americans deserve to hear more about the possible pitfalls of this strategy? The stakes are huge.

So I'm waiting to see if some reporters will pick up the scent where the report left it. Maybe they'll find it leads to better prospects for charters down the road. Either way, they should rescue us from blind enthusiasm.