AP’s Charter School Story Is Bad. Its Headline Is Worse.

 

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A factually incorrect headline that AP seems to be letting stand.

A recent AP story attempts to describe some of the current difficulties large traditional school districts in some places are facing:

“In financially struggling urban districts from LA to Philadelphia – and most notoriously, Detroit – the increasing popularity of charter schools, combined with family flight to the suburbs and declining birth rates, have caused enrollment to plummet,” states the story.

Unfortunately, the story is cast in an extremely simplistic knee-jerk mode pitting district schools against charters, which is not always as clear or causal as it may seem. It also includes an obviously incorrect headline that AP for some reason has refused to correct.

Based on how this AP story is constructed — in terms of what’s highlighted and who’s quoted — school districts’ financial woes are largely due to charter school enrollment. Demographic trends, private school enrollments, and structural costs (buildings, pensions) often play a role as big or bigger than charter school enrollment.  

There’s also the glaring problem of the headline, which appears to suggest that charter schools aren’t public schools. Charter schools are different, but they are widely recognized to be public in nature. Charter schools are authorized by state legislatures, awarded most commonly to nonprofit organizations, and paid for with state and local tax revenues in ways very similar to district schools. 

A handful of eagle-eyed readers noted the headline problem, including DFER’s Michael Dannenberg.

A couple of others such as New America’s Conor Williams noted problems with how the story is constructed. Ever constructive, Williams suggested an alternative headline: “Given the Choice, Frustrated Parents Leave District Schools in Large Numbers.”

This isn’t the first time in recent memory that a mainstream news outlet has included faulty information about charter schools — out of ignorance or based on claims made by some districts and teachers unions that charter schools are not public and that, essentially, kids being served in charter schools (and teachers hired to educate them) don’t count. 

Just a few weeks ago, the LA Times published a story about how much charter schools “cost” LAUSD that was based on a union-funded study and failed to incorporate demographic and other information. That story was poked full of holes by KPCC’s Kyle Stokes followup and an oped from Edunomics Lab’s Marguerite Roza.

Asked about the headline and story, AP reporter Christine Armario referred me to the AP press relations team, which has not yet responded. Education editor Carole Feldman has not responded to requests for a comment or interview.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.