The glaring errors in NPE’s new anti-charter school report

William Flanders & Jim Bender:

Recently, the Network for Public Education (NPE) released a report that attempts to put another arrow in the quiver of charter opponents. This study ostensibly investigates the extent to which federal funds have gone to charter schools that closed their doors, or never opened to begin with that had previously received CSP funds. It is a follow-up to an earlier analysis by NPE that came under sharp criticism for sloppy research methods. Christy Wolfe pointed out that a number of schools that the report claims have closed actually remained open, as well as for mischaracterizing the grant-approval process within the Department of Education. Unfortunately, it appears this new iteration suffers from the same flaws. Indeed, rumors of the closure of many charter schools in the study have been greatly exaggerated.

We took a look at the list of schools for Wisconsin only, the state with which we are the most familiar. Of the 132 schools identified as closed, at least ten remain open and serving students today. Indeed, schools like Hmong American Peace Academy and Milwaukee College Prep 36th St. and North are among the highest performing schools in Milwaukee according to report cards. Because media reports are including the aggregate number of schools closed along with the aggregate cost, errors of this nature serve to seriously undermine the findings.

What appears to have happened here is that the authors of the report did not realize that charter schools sometimes change authorizers. When that happens, the manner that the schools are reported on DPI reports—such as report cards—changes. This glaring error suggests that the authors did not take the time to dive into the charter laws in each state they claim to investigate, and it would be worth the time for proponents of charters in other states to look for similar errors. As noted by Nina Rees, President of the National Alliance for Charter Schools, the Department of Education itself has reported a far lower rate of failure than what is suggested here, with about 1.7 percent of CSP-funded charters closing before their second year of operation.

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