The New York Times recently published a two-in-one attack piece on charter schools and the Walton Family Foundation, thinly disguised as reporting. The Waltons are the family of Walmart fame, and the foundation pours a lot of money into both educational reform efforts and the campaigns of pro-reform candidates. After noting that the Waltons follow a “a distinct ideological path,” the article veers hilariously into innuendo: “With its many tentacles, [the Walton Family Foundation] has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education.”Even liberal wonk Jonathan Chait ripped into this piece for its appalling bias and bad faith. The NYT writes: “[Marc Sternberg, Walton’s director of K-12 education reform] said the foundation was focused not on ideology but on results, a word he repeated many times.” To which Chait responds:
The language here is typical. Sternberg, we are told, “does not apologize,” as if somebody caught in the act of helping a nonprofit organization educate underprivileged children should be expected to apologize. He exhibits a suspicious tic of repeating the word results, possibly because he is hiding something, or possibly because he believes that is the appropriate way to judge his work.
It’s always reassuring to see one liberal journalist skewer another for doing shoddy work. But Chait also takes the NYT to task over its false allegations about charter schools themselves. The Times suggests many times that charters hurt the public school system in general but fails to provide any evidence. Furthermore, the article implies that charters only take the brightest kids–even though lottery systems typically prevent that from happening in many districts that use charters. Chait calls a foul on that one:
Lottery-based admission might still attract children with more organized or motivated parents. But there’s no evidence that the success of charter schools has come at the expense of neighborhood schools. Students at both charter schools and neighborhood schools in Washington have shown steady increases in their test scores. (Is this because teachers are “teaching to the test,” or even cheating? No — the increases are on the NAEP test, which is not used to evaluate teacher performance.)So the students in the charter schools are doing better. Students in the neighborhood schools are also doing better. Lots of families are getting more choices, and nobody is being deprived of anything they had beforeWhat, exactly, is the problem here? It is very hard to say.
Aside from clueless ideological boosterism masquerading as reporting, what this NYT piece shows is that the blue civil war is especially heated when it comes to education reform. Some liberals—including President Obama—may acknowledge that charters help, but the teacher’s unions and their stalwarts aren’t going to back down.