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Journalism: Researcher Fails To Disclose Union Funding; Journos Fail To Ask

Granted, it was a busy week in Chicago news, what with the Columbus Day holiday and the unexpected sickness befalling CTU head Karen Lewis, but I see this happening with disturbing frequency lately:

A Chicago-focused charter school study from a couple of days ago was apparently funded in large part by the Chicago Teachers Union -- something that wasn't disclosed in the report and wasn't picked up on by any of the media outlets who passed on its results until now.  

The situation was picked up by Crain's Chicago reporter Greg Hinz in this post (Chicago teachers union paid part of cost of charter-school study), which noted:

Mr. Orfield conceded in a later interview with WTTW that the Chicago Teachers Union, a vehement foe of charters, picked up part of the tab. "It was funded by the teachers union," Mr. Orfield said. "And the Ford Foundation and Kresge Foundation and others."...

In a subsequent phone call, Mr. Orfield said the CTU had paid "about half" of the total bill. However, he added, the methodology he used for the Chicago study was "exactly the same" as in prior studies of charters in New Orleans and the Twin Cities."

Hinz himself didn't get around to checking it out in his initial story either (Chicago charter schools lag conventional public schools: Orfield report). The two dailies covered the study (Study: Charter schools have worsened school segregation | Chicago Sun-Times, and Study: Chicago charter schools lag traditional ones - Chicago Tribune -- but didn't address funding sources. Only WTTW, Chicago Public Television, got to the issue.

So what, you ask? The funding source doesn't necessarily undermine the results (though INCS and others have raised questions about the data and methodology), and Chicago's charters did somewhat better using Orfield's methodology than charters in New Orleans and Minneapolis.  

But still... this is pretty basic stuff. Given all the scrutiny given to funding sources and disclosure in the media and by reform critics in particular, disclosure from the researcher (Myron Orfield) -- and some journalistic checking about the funding source -- would have made a lot of sense. I don't know who to be more upset with -- the journalists or the researcher.   

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