New York Times Magazine Piece on Michigan Charter Schools Filled With Factual Errors

LANSING, Michigan – A piece in the New York Times Magazine on Michigan charter schools is filled with factual errors and grossly selective reporting, according to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), the state charter school association.

MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry said that many of the errors could have been caught if the New York-based writer, Mark Binelli, had sat down with MAPSA before the story ran – but Binelli refused.

“We reached out to him when we heard that he was working on the story and offered to provide him with any information he might need, but he refused to speak with us,” Quisenberry said. “Now it’s evident why. It’s obvious that he came into the story with a preconceived narrative, and he didn’t want the facts to get in the way of that. It’s a shame, because the story is filled with factual errors, and it really does a horrible disservice to students, parents and educators in Michigan.”

Binelli’s story, headlined “Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Students Lost,” was published in the New York Times Magazine on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Quisenberry pointed in particular to three glaring factual errors in the piece:

DETROIT CHARTER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE

Binelli wrote: “But more than half of Detroit students already attend charter schools, and studies have found these schools, on average, to be either as poorly performing or only marginally better than the public schools long called a national disgrace.”

Facts: Detroit charter schools significantly outperform traditional public schools in the city – a fact that every research study and analysis of data has always confirmed. A widely cited study by Stanford University showed that Detroit charter school students gain an additional three months of learning every year in English and math, compared to their traditional public school counterpart.

Most recently, this year’s M-STEP scores, released last week, showed that Detroit charter school students scored more than twice as high as traditional public schools in both English Language Arts and math.

Binelli intentionally omitted any information that would have shown the achievement gains taking place in Michigan’s charter schools, including the fact that Michigan’s top three high schools in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings are all charter schools; and 2017 data from Stanford University that showed students in schools operated by Michigan’s largest charter school management company, National Heritage Academies, gain several months of additional learning every year in English and math.

MICHIGAN CHARTER SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY

Binelli wrote: Michigan has “some of the least state oversight” in the country, adding “Even staunch charter school advocates blanch at the Michigan model.” He also wrote, “Michigan has become a symbol — and, for some, a cautionary tale — of a movement gone astray.”

Facts: Michigan has some of the strongest state oversight in the country when it comes to charter schools. Every charter school in the state is accountable to not only its local school board, but also to its authorizer, which oversees every aspect of the school’s operation, both academically and financially.

Michigan is also considered a model across the country for charter school oversight and accountability. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks Michigan as having the third-best charter school sector in the country in terms of performance, oversight and accountability. In its 2016 report, the National Alliance wrote, Michigan has a relatively good charter law. In addition, the state has an active Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers (MCCSA) that has adopted a common set of comprehensive oversight and accountability standards that are not always required by the state’s charter school law. The combination of a good law and an active MCCSA has significantly contributed to the health of the state’s movement.”

SCHOOL CLOSURES

Binelli wrote: In quoting anti-charter researcher Gary Miron, Binelli wrote the following without challenging the assertion: “(Miron) found authorizers rarely closed schools in Michigan — typically, only if the school had “been shamed by the media.”

Facts: Michigan’s authorizers have extremely high and clear-cut expectations and standards, and since 1994, 133 charter schools have closed in Michigan, mostly for poor academic performance or financial viability. (Not a single traditional public school has ever closed because of poor academic performance.) This year alone, 10 charter schools closed because of academic performance, financial viability or low enrollment. Not one of them was closed because it had been “shamed by the media.”

Summing up the reaction to the piece, Quisenberry said, “It’s disheartening that a writer from New York City, 500 miles away from Michigan, would swoop in and call students and parents ‘losers’ because they’ve chosen a charter school. The facts say otherwise. Thanks to charter schools, students across the state are on the pathway to a brighter future, and their parents know that. Thankfully, they know better than a guy from New York who came here with an agenda.

“We need to continue to work on real solutions in Michigan, to make sure that every child is receiving a quality education in a quality school. An error-filled hit piece from an out-of-state writer does nothing to advance that effort."