Why The New York Times Is Wrong, and the NAACP Right, in the Question of A Moratorium on Charters

This weekend, the NAACP is expected to vote on a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter schools at a meeting in Cincinnati. This week, too, The New York Times, in an editorial, called on the board of the NAACP not to ratify the resolution, one of several major news organizations that have called the NAACP to task for its resolution. Here I explain why The New York Times editorial, in particular, was wrong, and why the NAACP is right to call a moratorium until key flaws in the charter system are addressed by policy makers.

First, the Times argument relied heavily on research by the Center for Education Research Outcomes CREDO; as Andrew Maul and I have shown, the CREDO research, which uses a controversial methodology—comparing each charter school student to a “virtual-twin,” a composite of up to seven public-school kids who attend “feeder” schools and who “match” the charter students on both demographics and test scores—is highly flawed. Most egregiously, the CREDO study implies that the “virtual twins” are drawn from the general population of traditional public schools—specifically that a school is considered to be a feeder if even a single student transferred during the study period. This is not the case. CREDO excludes public schools that send less than five students to charters, thus introducing a bias against the best urban public schools in cities like New York where the best schools send few, if any, students to charters. I learned of the five-student minimum via an email exchange with Margaret Raymond, CREDO’s director, when the study first came out, but it is not disclosed in the study’s technical documents. (Nor does the study explain why it didn’t look at all “neighboring” public schools with comparable/charter-like demographics—whether they send kids to charters or not.)

Also, in the case of New Orleans, CREDO has admitted to violating its own methodology by comparing charter-school students in New Orleans, not as the methodology requires, to virtual twins in New Orleans public schools—because there are few public schools left  there—but to public-school kids elsewhere in Louisiana.

Second, as the recent UCLA study shows, “charter schools suspend students at a much higher rate than non-charter schools, some of which have suspension rates north of 70 percent. But a disproportionate amount of those suspensions fall on black students, who are four times more likely to be suspended than white students, and students with disabilities, who are twice as likely to be suspended as their non-disabled peers.”

Third, while there are good charter schools, you can’t build a system on either exceptions or on organizations that violate the norms of public-school behavior. In New York City, the largest CMO, Success Academy Charter Schools, is known for sky-high test scores, as well as a Dickensian practices, such as screening out the least desirable students and harsh discipline. The CMO also has fought government oversight, including a state audit of its operations.

Too often—Detroit is a case in point—policy makers and charter school leaders use other people’s children in ill-advised education experiments. Charter school advocates have declared “mission accomplished” without sufficient evidence that they are, indeed, better than public schools, while ignoring considerable problems with these schools and the narrow test-based methods used to evaluate them. They also ignore the damage done to public schools when charters siphon off both public funding for education and the easiest-to-teach students. The NAACP is right to call a moratorium on charter schools until policy makers figure out both how to hold charter schools accountable, as well as the tipping point at which the number of charter schools begin to do serious damage to neighboring public-schools.



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