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Media: What WNYC's Charter School Advocacy Story Gets Wrong

image from c5.nrostatic.comThe news of the day is that the DOE has appreantly reversed itself on one of its much-discussed charter co-location decisions -- Success Academy's students aren't "on their own" after all, according to the NY Post (Flip-flop Farina now wants to help charter students).

If you want, read a little more about the shellacking that reformers have been giving this week over at NRO (School Reformers Fight Back against de Blasio). This kind of robust public response has been missing in the past from polite reformers who've seemed to be scared of their own shadows (or naive about how things get done in the real world).

Still, I still want to take a minute to address WNYC's piece earlier this week about the debate going on between charter advocates and critics, because, well, I like to complain about other peoples' work and this kind of thing keeps happening and really annoys and troubles me.

The WNYC story has several great elements, but misses badly when it comes to balance and context -- and misses out on at least one obvious connection between FFES and Eva Moscowitz's charter network.

Read below for the details.

Robert Lewis's piece, titled Who Is Behind the Pro-Charter Schools Group Fighting de Blasio?, does a good job telling us about FFES, the nonprofit behind much of the push.  

Lewis tells us several things that FFES did to support charters in recent weeks, and where the money seems to be coming from.  He also tells us that some charter supporters donate to de Blasio and that one of the main anti-charter organizations out there, AQE, is union funded.  He gets good quotes from some of the leading players on both sides of the debate (though he misses or leaves out that the current head of StudentsFirst, Jenny Sedlis, is the former deputy for Eva Moscowitz's Success Academy).

 That being said, the Lewis story has some of the problems that I've noted in previous stories about reform advocacy and political spending:

So Cuomo has taken $100,000 from charter supporters?  How much has he taken from unions, or taken over all? How much has de Blasio taken from charter supporters?

So there are powerful and wealthy people behind the charter school movement, who have access to lots of money?  Isn't that just as true for charter critics like the teachers unions, who massed their own set of supporters in Albany for de Blasio's universal pre-K initiative?  

Just because union advocacy has been around for longer doens't mean it doesn't exist -- or that readers shouldn't know about it, too. And dark money might once have been a Republican thing but Democrats now lead the way in creating these massive "dark" organizations.

Last but not least, there's the issue of balance.  Lewis gives AQE's Natasha Capers two free shots at charter supporters over their hedge fund backers and the need for co-location but he doesn't tell us anything about how much AQE receives, and from whom besides the union, and what it does with the money.  

Maybe that's coming in a follow-up story?  

See previous posts: What MSNBC's O'Donnell Gets Wrong About DenverWhat Gail Collins Gets Wrong About NCLBThree Ways NYT Gets Turnaround Story WrongSeven Big Mistakes In NY Mag's Recent Testing ArticleEverything You Read In That Mother Jones Article Is Wrong.Media Getting SAT Story Wrong (& Who Funded It, Anyway?)What The NYT Got (Wrong) Re NCLB Waivers


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You keep asking. Eventually someone will be reminded that we are supposed to have journalistic standards.


It's false equivalence to liken teachers' unions (opposing so-called "reform" policies) to the wealthy entities promoting them.

That's because teachers' unions are stakeholders -- insiders -- representing the people who work in schools.

The wealthy entities promoting so-called "reform" policies are largely individuals and organizations with no involvement in public education at all until they began, as outsiders, stepping in to try to reshape it. The involvement of Teach for American admittedly confounds that picture somewhat, but overall that's the situation.

Congrats to Kyle Smith -- with supposedly tens of thousands of families "hungry for great public school options" stuck on waiting lists, landing a coveted kindergarten spot at a Success Academy (which one?) is quite a coup!

One wonders, though, how his employer, who has industriously spent the last week pouring gasoline over a relatively small story (more Success co-locations were approved than denied; the DOE overturned three district co-locations, including one for a politically connected highly progressive middle schools) is handling potential conflicts of interest. Maybe your vexed concern for this will be discussed in a coming blog post?

@tim can you confirm this in any way?

See the fourth graf of the NRO piece: "...including one very satisfied Success Academy customer, my five-year-old daughter."

All kinds of juicy angles here: first, again, beating those astronomical odds to get a seat. What kind of firewall is there between news and editorial? Is Smith contributing to the coverage, directly or indirectly, as a writer or as a source?

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