The [Thursday] Papers
The Tribune editorial board is doubling down* on disingenuousness. It's not a good look.**
Having already been called out for its faulty handling of data in an editorial pushing - yet again - the expansion of charter schools, it is now denying the irrefutable facts reported (most extensively and impressively by WBEZ) elsewhere that destroys their major premise: that 19,000 Chicago Public Schools students are on charter school waiting lists. The reported truth: Not even close.
Faced with such an epic fail*** in the midst of a heated debate**** ripping apart the city*****, the Tribune could have responded with class and magnanimity befitting its gothic gray tower and simply apologized for letting its enthusiasm for advancing a position outrun the facts.
"An honest mistake," the edit board could have averred, "fueled by our zeal to see that every child in Chicago get the quality education they deserve. We know others disagree with us on how to get there, but we can't get to the result we all do agree on - serving our kids - if the debate is skewed by institutional propaganda (be it from CPS or CTU) and falsities. So let's restate our case."
That would have been refreshing.
"We have been chastened, and we will double our efforts in the future to make sure our arguments - which we still believe wholeheartedly - are backed by fact and not airy estimates designed to serve an ideology instead of the truth."
Then the Tribune could have refashioned its argument in light of the facts put before it. Maybe that argument would have taken on a new shape that would have advanced the ball for all sides. After all, isn't that the way the Tribune itself is trying to persuade others - by asking, in part, for readers, activists, policy makers and politicians to reconsider their views in light of the facts presented instead of mere argument, talking points and spin? And to adjust those views accordingly each time new information is brought to light? Isn't that the rational world that editorial boards, and in fact, journalists on principle, plead for?
The Tribune is not taking that course of action, presumably because it just cannot bear what the facts say. Instead, it is excusing the facts as unimportant in light of the "larger truth" it is divinely endowed with, perhaps unaware that "larger truths" are so often deployed in defense of fiction parading as non-fiction.
The Tribune's "corrective" editorial, then, begins with a premise badly undermined by the reporting at hand. The headline: "The Thirst For Charter Schools."
WBEZ's reporting, in fact, illustrates that there isn't any particular thirst for charter schools, at least not one that outstrips the thirst for CPS schools. Parents mostly thirst for a quality neighborhood school accessible by their children. Who runs it is a secondary concern, though affordability puts private schools at the bottom of the list.
"It's no secret that this page strongly supports charter schools," the Trib continues. "That support is based on the outstanding performance of the best charter schools, on the growing demand from parents and students for more education options and on the vast potential for innovation at these schools."
First, the Tribune itself has reported that even the best charters could not crack the top seven performing high schools in the city.
Further, in 2011 the paper reported that "Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders have long heralded charter schools' innovative approach to education, but new research suggests many charters in Chicago are performing no better than traditional neighborhood schools and some are actually doing much worse."
The Tribune editorial goes on to say: "Many charters generate impressive results where it matters most: in student performance."
Again, that claim is just not supported by a myriad of data.
And that mysteriously measured parental demand for more choice? "A report to be released Wednesday by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution ranks CPS second among large urban districts in providing choices for parents aside from traditional neighborhood schools," that same Trib report says.
Yes, well, coincidentally, CPS has closed 100 schools in the last decade. The demand is for schools, not charters. Kids have to go somewhere.
So? They obviously aren't at the limit!
Really? And what is the evidence for that?
"A recent Joyce Foundation-Chicago Tribune poll of 1,010 Chicagoans found that 63.7 percent favored making it easier for charters to expand in neighborhoods where there are waits for admission to charter schools, and 67.9 percent said it should be easier for charters to open in neighborhoods with underperforming schools."
Oh, I see: The Tribune manufactured the evidence.
"In addition to the skewed sample, a look at the actual survey shows that the Tribune's analysis of the data in its accompanying editorial is highly selective - a textbook lesson in cherry-picking details (and intentionally leaving out others) to suit one's agenda," Chicago teacher Gregory Michie writes in an extensive takedown of the Joyce poll on Huffington Post.
(See also Diane Ravitch's "Did The Chicago Tribune And Joyce Foundation Do Push Polling?" Hint: The answer is Yes.)
Finally, to the heart of the matter.
"That figure has come under challenge."
Oy. That figure has been reported as false. Coming "under challenge" spins the reporting into advocacy.
"In a Tribune oped last week, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the argument for more charters is 'based on an unsubstantiated, discredited waiting list of 19,000 students.'"
Yes, by all means, start with a "claim" by Lewis to undermine the validity of the reporting.
"A report by WBEZ-FM this week said the estimate 'significantly overstates demand"' because it 'counts applications, not students, meaning if a student applies to four schools, he or she is counted four times. It includes kids who have turned down charter seats and are now enrolled in other schools.'"
Link, please. Let readers see the depth of WBEZ's reporting.
"The estimate of 19,000 students waiting for a charter school slot comes from Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, a charter advocacy group."
We just took the estimate of an advocate as fact.
"The figure is largely based on State Board of Education data on the number of student applications for charters and the number of charter seats available in the 2010-11 school year. The difference between those numbers is an 'estimate . . . of students who were seeking slots at a charter school who were not served in that school year,' Broy says."
That makes no sense at all, for all the reasons WBEZ reports.
"He acknowledges that the calculation does not account for how many students file applications to more than one charter school. That would lower the number of students waiting for a charter school."
"But the calculation also does not include statistics from several Chicago charter schools that have opened or expanded since the last state assessment was completed. It does not include several charter schools that did not report figures for the 2010-11 school year. It does not include applications that came in after the end of the spring lottery period, in which students are either admitted or wait-listed for the next school year. Those factors would raise the number of students waiting for a charter school."
And the figures not included in Broy's estimate that would make it considerably lower considerably outweigh the invisible data the Tribune cites to make up for its lack of diligence.
"Broy stands by his calculation. 'We feel the 19,000 number is strongly supported and is likely a conservative estimate,' he says."
Given the facts, there is now way this figure can be taken seriously. Unless you are an editorial board on the defensive.
"It is an estimate, made in good faith, and open to question and challenge."
No. It is an estimate made by an advocate with an agenda. And reported facts are not simply "questions" or "challenges;" they are the facts.
No. Why do you ask?
"Take a look at the yearly ramp-up in Illinois, according to the chart with this editorial. Some 2.3 million students are attending charters nationally in this school year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools."
"Demand for great charters - for more and better choices across the public school system - shows no signs of flagging. That's why the Chicago Public Schools system continues to authorize more charters. And why we strongly encourage that growth. No child should have to wait for the opportunity."
Again, WBEZ's reporting shows astonishingly long wait lists for non-charter CPS schools. The demand is for schools - kids have to go somewhere. The city has closed 100 schools and opened more than 100 charters. The only conclusion one can draw from that is that demand has been created by fucking with the supply. If charters opened without CPS schools closing, then we could begin to see which schools parents chose. My guess? The one in their neighborhood, if possible.
*Sorry for using that overused phrase, I'm exhausted.
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Posted on April 4, 2013
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