“I joked with one of my colleagues that it’s like Mad Libs. Write ‘charter school’ and then insert some vaguely scandalous-sounding allegation,” Robert, executive director of Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, told Wisconsin Watchdog.
“The report has a fundamental misunderstanding of how charter schools work, as well as how schools’ finance and federal grants work.”
The CMD report omits important facts and context in its attempt to portray charter schools across the nation as lacking in transparency and accountability and in need of greater supervision by the U.S. Department of Education.
The report cites examples of closed charter schools in Wisconsin and 11 other states to try to make its case.
CMD is based in Madison, but that doesn’t mean its portrait of charter schools in Wisconsin is accurate.
“It’s very misleading,” Roberts said. “Over 95 percent of the charter schools that have closed in Wisconsin are schools that were authorized and operated by local school districts. And the reason most of those schools no longer exist is not because they closed for poor performance, but because they were merged into other schools in those districts.”
Charter schools in Wisconsin fall into two general categories. In most of the state, charter schools are authorized and run by local school districts. In Racine and the Milwaukee area there are also independent charter schools, authorized by agencies other than the school district and run by their own selected boards.
“All of the schools listed in the report were authorized and operated by school districts. It seems odd to me they would use those schools to try to make the case that somehow charter schools are suffering from a lack of transparency and accountability,” Roberts said.
“The school districts are in charge of reporting the necessary information for those schools. If there is a problem in any of those cases, it’s a problem with the school district not with charter schools.”
“If anything, this report actually makes a case that we need more independent charter schools, rather than schools chartered by their districts,” Roberts said.
Roberts pointed out that independent charter schools rarely close.
“Frankly, I think a lot of that has to do with their academic performance,” he said.
A report issued early this year by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty examined the academic performance of all the state’s charter schools based on data gathered by the Department of Public Instruction.
“We found that independent charter schools do very well,” Martin Lueken, who was director of education research at WILL when the report was issued, told Wisconsin Watchdog. “The data indicates that more freedom and more autonomy from traditional school district bureaucracy a charter school has, the better its results.”
“That reflects the numbers we’ve seen as well,” Roberts said. “Academic growth in independent charter schools is better than the statewide average and their math and reading achievement is better than the district-wide average.”
“Of course, none of that is in the CMD report. To me it looks like they had a conclusion and they wrote the report to reach that conclusion by any means necessary.”