New NPE Charter School Report Is Deeply Flawed, Willfully Misrepresents Data

Last week, the Network for Public Education (NPE) again revealed that they are incapable of conducting unbiased and well-executed research. In a follow-up to a report they released earlier this year, the new report, Still Asleep at the Wheel, set out to undermine the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) by documenting supposed waste and fraud.

Instead, what they document is their fundamental misunderstanding of how the grant program works, poor research methods, and a willingness to misrepresent data to suit their narrative.

The report uses a database released by the Department of Education in 2015. This database lists the schools that received grant awards from 2006 through 2012. Overall, the report and its conclusions are based on a fundamentally flawed assumption that the awards listed in their database are equivalent to the money charter schools receive.

Charter schools only receive money from the grant as reimbursements for approved expenditures. Therefore, if a school never opens or closes before the grant period, they do not automatically receive the indicated award amount because they may not expend the funds.

The report misrepresents this fact as the basis for their estimate of “waste and fraud.”


The original report released in April 2019—Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride—suggested that $1 billion was potentially wasted on schools that never opened or closed quickly. That assertion was challenged in part due to the fact that NPE was not diligent in their accounting of quickly closed or never-opened schools. For example, there were multiple instances of schools counted as closed that are still in operation.

In response, the updated report suggests that NPE engaged in a “painstaking” process to verify the operation status of their list of charter schools. However, they still didn’t get the list of closed and never-opened schools right.

Perhaps even more concerning is due to their new list of schools, they had to move the goal posts to get back to the original $1 billion estimate. The report now includes all schools that closed rather than only schools that closed quickly. Even if a school was open for 10 years, they still categorize the CSP startup money the school received as waste.

This conclusion is particularly ridiculous, given that a feature of charter schools is that they are closed if they are not serving kids well, a feature district schools do not have.

Closing schools is never easy, but it’s ethically wrong to trap kids in schools that fail to serve them. While we need better understanding around why schools close nationally, some states periodically release their school closure lists. The report leverages closure data for Arizona and Ohio to illustrate reasons for school closures—focusing on one category in particular: mismanagement/fraud.

However, the problem is the report NPE cited doesn’t even use this categorization. Instead, they use “mismanagement”—a different reason entirely. While there are school closure cases that could be considered fraudulent, NPE’s overarching characterization here is deeply misleading. There is almost no evidence that suggests fraudulent use of CSP money as a reason for school closure.


The report and its premise prevent readers from truly understanding the nationwide positive and essential impact of the CSP. It is impossible to contextualize the NPE’s findings without understanding the benefits the CSP provides to charter schools that remain open and to the students that they serve. The report blatantly ignores the academic results that charter schools yield for students and the almost 5 million students who would attend a charter school if one were available to them.

With Still Asleep at the Wheel as the perfect example, we know people who feel justified in their cause are willing to create evidence to support what they believe rather than have evidence shape their beliefs. Especially when it comes to the education of children, we must do better. We can’t have honest discourse to create better policies if we aren’t using fact-based reports, and the Still Asleep at the Wheel publication has no place in an honest conversation.

Charters Reform Unions

Yes, Warren’s Education Plan Would Do Harm To Many Families

Elizabeth Warren is the candidate with “a plan for everything,” including public education. There are some good ideas in there—such as ending zero-tolerance discipline policies and $100 billion in “Excellence Grants” for any public school (including charter schools, believe it or not.) 

But tucked away at the end is a poison pill under the subtitle: “Combating the Privatization and Corruption of Our Public Schools.” Sounds ominous, but is it accurate? 

Not even close. Some of the union-approved talking points found include:

  • “Charters … strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color.”
    Does Warren realize more than 60 percent of charter students are students of color? And that study after study finds that these students fare better in charter schools than kids who look like them in traditional public schools? Pssst, including the state she represents in the Senate, where “charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes.”
  • “Ban on for-profit charter schools.”
    First of all, the federal government can’t do this, as charter laws are written by states. Also, only 12 percent of charters are for-profit, and exist only in Wisconsin, California, Michigan and Arizona. This is a favorite red herring of hacks like union shill Peter Greene, intended to mislead the public into thinking that charters are somehow “stealing” public dollars.
  • “Ban self-dealing in nonprofit schools to prevent funneling resources to service providers.”
    This is rich. Yes, there are flagrant cases of charter schools funneling money to for-profit service companies to enrich their leaders. But this problem is hardly unique to charters. Traditional districts and schools are and have always been rife with financial fraud. This is an accountability and oversight problem that curbing charter growth does nothing to prevent. In reality, charters are as good as the laws which create them. Just look at Massachusetts, where Warren praised her home state’s charter laws as “successful, thoughtful, and innovative.”

Parents of Color See Through It

In response, dozens of parents of color called out Warren’s pandering plan and demanded she do better by families who’ve been left out and behind by the very school districts she verbally praises but personally avoided for her son. More recently, she told the NEA that: “If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school. Go help get more resources for it.”

Many of these parents specifically select charter schools because of generational deprivation at the hands of school districts. For those who can’t afford private schools, there are few other options. Yet, in attacking what little opportunity public education affords these parents, Warren persists.

Naturally, the union-funded status quo defense apparatus sprung into action, calling the parents’ motives and intelligence into question. Worse yet, some on Twitter claimed the fuss was much ado about nothing and the parents “incoherent”:

Rachel Cohen’s since-deleted tweet.

When Warren writes, “as President, I would eliminate this [federal] charter school program and end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools,” this is an imminent threat to families with limited education options. This is a direct threat to what many families consider a lifeline for their children.

No, parents like Warren and Diane Ravitch aren’t concerned about losing charter schools as an option (or relegating them to the same bureaucratic backwater that plagues districts), because they simply send their kids to private schools or (gasp) the ultimate bastion of privilege and segregation in public education: magnet schools.

If only Warren spoke about the entrenched interests of the education blob as she did on a recent NYT podcast about the financial sector:

I just didn’t care about the banks and the big donors. If you thought I was wrong in what families needed, tell me. But nobody ever did. You know what everybody said to me? It’s a great idea, but don’t even try to do it because the banks call the shots—the big money calls the shots. And they’re gonna keep this from getting done.

Replace “banks and donors” with “union leaders and bloated district bureaucrats” and she’s spot on.

Don’t be rope-a-doped by salacious union-talking points disguised as serious public policy. Much of Warren’s plan is driven from a tremendous point of privilege. She shouldn’t be surprised when parents who don’t buy the charades check her and insist on a refresh to her plan that takes into account their lived experiences.


Why Are Billionaire-Funded Twitter Journalists Attacking Black and Latino Parents?

You’ve likely seen the powerful social media videos. A collective of pissed off parents from across the country demanding more for their students and communities.

Chanting “our children, our choice” the Powerful Parent Network raised money via GoFundMe to attend Elizabeth Warren’s “honoring the voices of Black women” event in Atlanta. What a thought, a cadre of Black and Latino parents demanding their voices be heard at an event aimed at honoring them. The novelty.

In response to Warren’s steaming pile of an education plan, the Powerful Parent Network had a message of their own: Create a new education plan that works for all of us, not just those who can afford to buy houses near schools where kids learn. (Or who can afford the tony private schools where Warren sent her kid. Something she’s been silent about, before then lying about, before then correcting the record on.)

And effective these parents were. Garnering national coverage and forcing Ayanna Pressley to mediate, the parents — along with civil rights champion and former superintendent Howard Fuller — met with Warren and her team after the event, exchanging perspectives in a collegial conversation, where she said, “If I don’t have the pieces right, I’m going to go back and read it. I’m going to make sure I got it right.”

Posted by Sunny Thomas on Thursday, 21 November 2019

Success, right? Black and Brown parents from some of the most historically segregated and under served districts and schools in the country made sure their voices were heard and asked the candidate they may end up voting for to take their perspectives into account in her education plan. That’s democracy in action, but not quite.

Because what would it mean to be a parent of color in America if the Fauxgressives of the Left and their thoughtless media hounds didn’t seize this occasion to question their intelligence and motives, accusing Black parents of being props for billionaires? This was exactly the line of thinking from The Intercept’s Ryan Grim, who’s shoddy internet sleuthing sought to undermine these parents because a similar group of parent activists accepted funds from The Walton Family Foundation. Thankfully, those who know better called out the racist BS:

Alas, this is what we’ve come to expect from the lazy keyboard crusaders and self-aggrandizing Twitteratzi whose aims are retweets and likes rather than truth and understanding. Where is Grim’s expose on the notorious discrimination and criminalization of Black and Brown students via K12 education? Where are the hot takes on the teachers’ union dollars poured into politics, from local school boards to presidential races?

And where oh where are the mea culpas from Grim and Co. declaring their own billionaire funders, Pierre Omidyar of eBay and Bloomberg?  Of course they aren’t actually against taking money from billionaires — just not the “right” ones who happen to write their paychecks.

The blatant anti-Black and parent of color bias from “woke” Twitter pundits such as Grim and Rachel Cohen is par for the course, cynically brokering Jim Crow Black Parents Don’t Know Better paradigms as progressive ideals while decrying those who point out this hypocrisy as “neo-liberal” or “far-right”.

The reality is that we parents of color, forced to navigate an education system which disdains and criminalizes our children for being themselves, have been failed for generations — and then told we are the problem. We aren’t taking it anymore and, yes, we’ll take money from wherever we can get it to do so, because we don’t have much to begin with. But that’s not the catchy clickbait your own billionaire funders want you publish, right Grim?


Charter Schools Are Not A “Republican” Thing

As I noted earlier this week, a group of anti-reform activists in Colorado recently passed an amendment to the state Democratic Party platform opposing the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and calling on the organization drop “Democrats” from its name.1

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time DFER has been attacked by groups from within its own party. Much of the ire directed at DFER is due to its support for public charter schools, which opponents portray as a part of a Republican plot to dismantle public education.

Those opponents include groups like the American Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers (an AFT affiliate), and Alliance for Quality Education (which receives – surprise! – major funding from AFT), who together launched a website calling DFER and its supporters “Democrats in name only,” while insinuating that the organization is a kind of political Trojan Horse backed by wealthy GOP donors like the Koch Brothers and Betsy DeVos.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but the teachers unions and their allies have repeatedly demonstrated they have no compunction about misrepresenting the facts when it suits their interests. Furthermore, their contention that DFER’s support for charters is somehow antithetical to the values and beliefs of the Democratic Party conveniently ignores the integral role that Democrats have played in the charter school movement over the past thirty years.

To illustrate this point, I created the table below listing the states that have charter school laws on the books, as well as the year in which those laws were enacted. It also shows which party (blue for Democrats and red for Republicans) controlled the governorship, the senate, and the house in each of those states when their charter laws were passed.

The chart above lists all of the states with charter school laws, the year those laws went into effect, and shows which party controlled the governorship, the state senate, and the state house when those laws passed. Obviously, blue = Democrats and red = Republicans.

The data makes clear that charter schools are not a “Republican” thing, but one of those rare issues around which Democratic and Republican lawmakers could find common ground to provide children with much-needed educational options. In some cases, such as my home state of Louisiana, Democrats can actually take full credit for the introduction of charters since their party held a “trifecta” in state government at the time.

In short, those who call DFER and its supporters “Democrats in name only,” are either ignorant of the party’s history or are simply trying to rewrite it. But if they think that pro-reform Democrats are just going to roll over while they are attacked for trying to expand educational opportunities for kids, they are sorely mistaken.

DFER president Shavar Jeffries had a message for anti-reform Democrats this week: “We are not going anywhere.”

As DFER president Shavar Jeffries said in a response to the dustup in Colorado this week: “If our intra-party opponents would prefer counter-productive family warfare as opposed to unity around shared values, this should be clear too: We stand with the millions of families across our country demanding access to high-quality public schools and the thousands of elected Democrats who fight tirelessly to ensure they get it.”

“We are not going anywhere,” he added.

  1. Full disclosure: I am an (unpaid) advisory board member for the Louisiana chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, although the thoughts expressed here are exclusively my own. 

Students: 1, SPLC: 0

A judge has rejected a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center claiming that Mississippi’s charter school law violates the state’s constitution.

In his ruling, Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas wrote, “This court cannot find that plaintiffs herein have proven unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The suit, which SPLC filed on behalf of seven Jackson Public School District parents in 2016, would have cut off state and local funding to charter schools, effectively shutting them down. There are currently three charter schools in the state serving more than 1000 students and two more charters are scheduled to open this fall.

Reimagine Prep in Jackson is one of three charters currently operating in Mississippi.

Charter schools provide much-needed educational options to families in Mississippi, which consistently ranks among the poorest states in the country. Overall educational attainment in the Magnolia State is depressingly low. Mississippi has nearly as many high school dropouts as it does college graduates. For African-Americans, the statistics are particularly disturbing. In 2015, only 14% of black fourth-graders and 8% of black eighth graders were proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

That’s why SPLC’s legal assault on charters have left many people scratching their heads. It’s hard to understand why an organization with a long history of fighting white supremacists and protecting the civil rights of marginalized groups is trying to shut down schools that primarily serve low-income, African-American students.

Yet as I’ve noted previously, SPLC has embraced an anti-charter strategy in recent years, particularly in New Orleans, where the local SPLC office launched an aggressive effort to undermine and discredit the city’s charter-driven reforms.

Unfortunately, their attack on Mississippi’s charter schools is far from over. Shortly after Judge Thomas issued his decision on Tuesday, SPLC attorney Will Bardwell filed a notice of appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“This case was always going to be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court,” Bardwell said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We are happy to have a chance to present our argument to them.”

Hopefully Mississippi’s highest court will end up rejecting that argument. Meanwhile, the battle continues.


Over At PE+CO: An Open Letter About Einstein

Back in January, I sent a letter to the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to bring their attention to the troubling revelations about Einstein Charter School, a charter management organization in New Orleans that is planning to open a charter school in Little Rock.

Over the past several months, it has emerged that Einstein’s schools in New Orleans have been failing to provide transportation to students as required by their charter agreement. The CMO has also been accused of enrolling students outside of OneApp, the citywide enrollment system that assigns students to schools. These are serious violations that undermine the systems we have established to ensure that all children have fair and equal access to our public schools.

For some reason, I never received a response from anyone on the board. Therefore, I decided to publish the letter, which you can read here.


Report: Chronic Absenteeism Isn’t A Problem At D.C. Charter High Schools

On Tuesday, the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education issued a report revealing that far too many high schools in our nation’s capital are handing out diplomas to students who haven’t met the attendance requirements for graduation.

OSSE launched an investigation into the matter after NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story which claimed that administrators at Ballou High School pressured teachers to change failing grades and overlook excessive absences in order to allow students to graduate.

This week’s report not only confirms the accusations leveled against Ballou, but it shows that many DCPS high schools have been allowing chronically absent students to graduate in violation of district policy.

According to data compiled by OSSE, nearly half of the students (46.7 percent) who graduated from traditional high schools in DCPS last year missed more than 30 days of school. Moreover, the number of chronically absent students graduating from DCPS traditional high schools has been rising over the past three years.

Nearly half of the students who graduated from DCPS traditional high schools last year missed at least 30 days of school.

However, there is one bright spot among the report’s troubling findings: charter schools. OSSE’s investigation found that D.C. charter high schools have “few students within the highest bands of absenteeism” and “much more stable patterns of attendance in the past three years than high schools in DCPS.” In fact, only 8% of students who graduated from charter high schools last year missed more than 30 days of school.

Only 8% of students who graduated from charter high schools last year missed more than 30 days of school.

Although critics frequently claim that charters aren’t held to the same standards as traditional public schools, the opposite appears to be true in Washington D.C. OSSE’s report makes clear that several of the city’s traditional high schools have chosen to ignore the district’s graduation requirements, while charters only hand out diplomas to students who earn them.

You can read more about the OSSE’s report from the Washington Post here or read the report in full below.


A “Polite Cousin” of Hypocrisy

A new report in the Wall Street Journal reveals that a charter school run by the United Federation of Teachers in Brooklyn serves a disproportionately small number of English-language learners and students with special needs.

According to data released by the New York State Education Department, only 3% of students at UFT Charter School (inventive name!) were English-language learners last year, while ELL enrollment at surrounding traditional public schools was 12%. Likewise, only 8% of UFT Charter’s students had disabilities last year, while students with special needs made up approximately 22% of those enrolled at neighboring schools.

Ironically, one of the biggest critics of New York City’s charter schools is UFT president Michael Mulgrew, who has frequently accused them of intentionally pushing out ELL, SPED, and other hard-to-teach students in an effort to boost their test scores. Yet as WSJ reporter Leslie Brody points out, English-language learners make up about 7% of the students who attend the city’s charter schools, while special education enrollment stands at 17%. So apparently other charters in the Big Apple are compensating for the ELL and SPED students that UFT’s school isn’t serving.

UFT president (and charter critic) Michael Mulgrew

Mulgrew’s predecessor at the helm of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, launched UFT Charter School in 2005 in a hubristic attempt to prove that charters schools could succeed under the conditions imposed by the union’s contract. At the time, Weingarten promised, “Our schools will show real, quantifiable student achievement — and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

UFT Charter eventually expanded to two campuses – a K-8 school and high school – but the union’s experiment quickly turned into a disaster. According to an oversight report from the school’s authorizers at the State University of New York, UFT Charter struggled due to high turnover, financial mismanagement, and a lack of resources such as textbooks and other classroom equipment. SUNY eventually closed UFT’s Charter’s K-8 school in 2015, after years of dismal test results. Moreover, as Brody notes, UFT’s remaining high school is struggling to attract students. Official enrollment data shows that only 265 of the school’s 320 seats were filled as of October 1.

Meanwhile, Weingarten moved on to become president of UFT’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, where she has launched a campaign to undermine charter schools across the country. This past summer, Weingarten unveiled her latest line-of-attack, calling charters the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation,” since many of them enroll high numbers of low-income, minority students who have been underserved by traditional public school systems.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten

Weingarten’s cynical attempt to flip the definition of segregation, which has always referred to systemic efforts to exclude minorities from schools, neighborhoods, and elsewhere, is particularly hypocritical in light of the Wall Street Journal’s revelations about UFT Charter School. Families-of-color choosing to send their children to charters – even those with a high proportion of minority students – doesn’t meet the definition of segregation. However, that word could certainly apply to the notable absence of ELL and students with special needs at UFT Charter in Brooklyn.


A Huge Blind Spot In New Orleans Pre-K Study

The Education Research Alliance (ERA) at Tulane University is out with a new study looking at how New Orleans’ charter-based school reforms have impacted pre-kindergarten.

What did they find? Between the 2004-05 school year (the last full school year before Hurricane Katrina) and S.Y. 2014-15, the number of available school-based pre-k seats in New Orleans declined 34 percent. The authors of the study go on to conclude:

“New Orleans’ transition to an almost-all-charter school district resulted in a substantial reduction in school-based pre-K in the city. Our results suggest that insufficient incentives are in place for schools to invest their funds in pre-K in this decentralized setting of highly mobile students.”

As lead author Lindsay Weixler told The Lens, “The biggest takeaway for me is the mismatch between decentralized school governance and an optional program like pre-k.”1

Predictably, critics have seized upon this research to bash New Orleans’ school reforms.

But Weixler and her colleagues completely ignore a (blindingly obvious) alternative explanation for the decline in available pre-K seats in New Orleans: funding cuts. Nowhere does the ERA study mention that Louisiana’s LA4 program, which provides the bulk of the state’s pre-kindergarten funding for low-income students, suffered significant cuts during the period in question, thanks to the ruinous fiscal policies of former Governor Bobby Jindal.

In 2005, LA4 provided $4,916 per student to pre-k programs, which is the equivalent of $6,203 in 2017 dollars.

In 2005, Louisiana’s LA4 program provided $4,916 per-pupil, or about $6,203 in 2017 dollars.

Today, the LA4 program provides only $4,580 per student enrolled. Moreover, a 2012 overhaul of early education standards and requirements made pre-k programs more costly than they were in 2005.

Back in 2010, education journalist Sarah Carr, writing for the Times-Picayune, reported that LA4 funding cuts were making it nearly impossible for charters to provide pre-k programs. Those financial barriers haven’t eased in the intervening seven years.

Weixler and her co-authors not ignore the crucially important funding issue, but they unfairly insist New Orleans’ charter schools aren’t providing pre-K because they lack the incentives to do so. A look at the numbers, however, suggests the real problem is that many charters simply can’t afford it.

  1. Full disclosure: I worked with Lindsay Weixler for a period at Teach For America in 2005.