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Home » NBC’s Charter School Reporting Mistake

NBC’s Charter Mistake 

On June 17th, NBC News aired a charter school story that argued charters are increasingly geared to support “white flight.” If the claims weren’t so outlandish and unfounded, it would be laughable.

The producer, who was incredibly open to receiving information countering these allegations, based his report on an analysis performed by the Hechinger Report. In one of the documents CER supplied, we demonstrated Hechinger’s bias against charter schools, as well as the folly of the argument.

Indeed, Hechinger claims to have used NCES data to calculate racial balances in charter schools across the country that justify erroneous claims that increasingly charter schools do not reflect racial balances of surrounding schools. However, as we pointed out, no researcher can make such statements based on NCES data. One needs at least 4 data points (see link for explanation) and further review, analysis and study, to make any legitimate comparisons.

In the case of the school they use as their prime example, George’s Lake Onocee Academy, originally boundaries were drawn around the school based on a development that was responsible for its existence. The 4 other public schools in the district were failing, and developers wanted to offer a better school to the community. The district was opposed to the creation of the school. And while the boundary no longer exists around that school, local leaders still argue that there is not enough room to help the charter be as diverse as other schools, and therefore, have fanned the flames of bigotry that Hechinger seized to market the sizzling story to its media partner NBC.

The Hechinger Report journalist then called numerous other states and asked about racial composition of their schools. One might ask why they’d have to call states if they thought they had irrefutable data.

We don’t fault NBC for viewing Hechinger’s work as legitimate or being misled by their data. Charter school’s thousands of policies, laws and data points are complex and require a trained eye and understanding. However, if one is disposed against charters as Hechinger is because they give parents freedom to make choices rather mandate assignment based on artificial factors, then one will make any conclusion that justified their narrative.

Such is the case in this piece which some charter advocates argue is balanced. Regardless of what is said tomorrow night, there is no balance in any piece which starts with the premise that the very reform that created opportunities for millions of children who were failed by the traditional system, and which serve a higher percentage of at risk and minority children, is creating racial imbalance. Indeed, if mandatory assignment by zip code and busing were the answer, we would not have failed students for 3 generations.

All children deserve the education they need to become exceptional adults. The freedom to make that choice is fundamental, as charter schools have shown consistently since 1992.

We hope NBC and other news media will find ways to help the public understand that fact, as well as the enormous need that still exists to bring innovation and opportunity to millions more students trapped in failing schools that Hechinger and its friends in the teachers unions irresponsibility seem determined to defend at all costs, including mis-use of data.

If you’d like to discuss this or any other issue, please call us at 202-750-0016 or drop us a note at


From: Jeanne Allen, Founder & CEO

Date: May 14, 2018

RE: Claims of racial balance issues in charter Schools, Hechinger Report

The memo serves as a resource tool offering a context for the various broad discussions going on about charter schools, specifically relating to the subject of racial balance in charters and allegations of segregation, which are limited in scope and unfounded. There are literally hundreds of other analyses going on right now that are less biased and more related to actual data, not aggregated and mixing data to prove a point. As we know, the Hechinger Report has a point of view against charter schools. Among its articles you find:

…just as does the reporter who visited the Greensboro, GA based Charter School Lake Onocee  Academy and whose tweets have a tendency to show bias against charter schools. Here are two examples. Agree or not, it’s a bias.

The Hechinger Report looks to this research as its foundation…

That research  quotes extensively from Renzulli & Evans wrote in 2005 without any data to support it that  The “choice” movement of the 1990s culminated in a proliferation of charter schools. However, school choice and charter school options may have future consequences for racial segregation given the potential for white flight similar to that which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing from racial competition theory, this article contributes to literature on education and stratification in a broader sense by examining white enrollment in charter schools and its possible consequences for racial segregation. Data are drawn from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), the Common Core of Data (CCD), and a unique dataset on district academic quality. Analyses suggest that relatively even distributions of white and nonwhite students within districts and corresponding competitive pressures spur white charter school enrollment. We suggest that such racial competition within the educational arena may indeed be bolstering the “return to school segregation.”

In Gary Orfield’s research he says: “Indeed, the Obama administration has prioritized the use of charter schools as a permissible school turnaround model, through its Race to the Top incentives, and in other ways, even though research has shown that charter schools are deeply segregated”.16

His Footnote goes to this research, which is in turn his bible…. And makes conclusions about charter schools DESPITE the data…

Which in turn quotes from several of other ‘studies’ that make judgements about charters but they offer the source of their own conclusions, which, as I suggested, are based on averages and a multiplicity of calculations, not actual numbers of students school by school, community by community:

Page 16:

“In terms of charter school segregation, we use several measures to evaluate different school-level dimensions of segregation. One measure is to aggregate the school-level data to the state level to compare charter and public schools within a particular state as well as charter school segregation across states. Secondly, we calculate the exposure index to have an average picture of the interracial exposure of students: The index can be interpreted as the percentage of students of a particular racial group in the school of the average student of another group (Massey & Denton, 1988; Orfield, Bachmeier, James, & Eitle, 1997; Reardon & Yun, 2002). Examining the exposure index gives us an average picture of interracial exposure in charter schools. However, this measure, which is essentially a weighted average of the racial composition of schools of students from each race, can mask the variation and distribution of students in schools. To explore the distribution of students in charter schools, we examine the concentration of students of all races in predominantly minority schools (greater than 50% of the student body is non-White), intensely segregated minority schools (90–100% minority), and intensely segregated white schools (90–100% White). Together, these measures portray both the actual level of interracial exposure in schools as well as the percentage of students attending racially imbalanced and isolated schools. It is important to note that using schools as our unit of analysis, this article aggregates the racial composition and exposure at the state level and, in some instances, to the metropolitan area level.

(Translation –  They did some problematic stuff, aggregating at various levels and then comparing across different units of analysis (this is a problem, because the dynamics of representativeness change in important ways when we’re talking about a school vs. a state vs. a metropolitan area).

If researchers can’t explain themselves in understandable prose, they should be ignored until they learn to– because incomprehensibility tends to reflect (and to hide) incoherent methodology…

“We recognize that the context of where schools are situated locally, educational funding incentives, and how districts chartering agencies choose to interpret state charter legislation are important considerations that likely influence segregation outcomes. It can be misleading, however, to look at charter schools at the district level, because in many states charters are often not part of a single school district or confined to drawing students only from that district. Indeed, early proponents of charter schools suggested they had the promise of drawing students across boundary lines and could address persistent segregation because they were not limited by district boundaries. As a result, comparing charter school enrollment and segregation only to the 15 Because many of our methods in this article were adapted from our earlier paper on charter school segregation, a prior version of this section was published earlier and has been adapted for this article’s analysis (Frankenberg & Lee, 2003). Choice without equity: Charter school segregation 17 surrounding district may not fully reflect the student population charter schools could enroll and, instead, that the metropolitan area is a better comparison for charter school enrollment. Thus, in addition to our national and state-level aggregation of charter school enrollment, we also evaluate the enrollment, racial composition, and racial segregation of charter and traditional public schools in the 39 metropolitan areas that had at least 10 charter schools in 2007–08.

“By contrast, more—12—states have a majority of charter school students who are Black (see Table A-5 in appendix). This is considerably larger than Black enrollment trends among traditional public schools, where only D.C. and Mississippi had a Black majority among regular public school students in 2007–08. D.C. is among the ten jurisdictions with black majorities of charter school students. Others such as Michigan, Louisiana, or Illinois may reflect a large number of charter schools serving some of the states’ urban areas. Ironically, some of these states, like New Jersey and Ohio, require some or all of their charter schools to take affirmative steps to create racially diverse enrollments (Frankenberg & Siegel-Hawley, 2009). The pattern for Latino students is not as extreme as for Black students. In New Mexico, the majority of charter school students are Latino, as is the case among all public school students there. Texas, however, has a majority of charter school students who are Latino, but this is not the case among traditional public schools (47% Latino).

“In all regions Black students are over-enrolled in charter schools as compared to their regional public school percentage. This is particularly noticeable in the Border region, which has an astonishing 74% of charter students who are Black (compared to only 20% of traditional public school students). This trend is influenced by the two jurisdictions with the largest charter enrollments, D.C. and Missouri, having large percentages of Black charter enrollments. Black students are also substantially over-represented in charter schools in the Midwest and the Northeast. Approximately half of all charter students are Black in these two regions. By contrast, only 14% of traditional public school students are Black (see Table 2). As will be discussed below, these trends could be the result of charter schools being located in largely minority central cities in these regions, providing minority students with alternatives to the public school district. Black students in the cities of these regions tend to be heavily isolated in high poverty, segregated schools, which is a legacy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Milliken decision that limited city-suburban desegregation in 1974. The dissolution of desegregation plans also contributed, following the Court’s 1991 Dowell decision pushing for termination of existing court desegregation orders. In general, the Milliken decision has had a major impact on schools in these regions because of very severe housing segregation for Blacks and fragmented (often homogenous) school districts in each metro (Clotfelter, 2004). Latino students in these Northeastern and Midwestern metro areas, however, do not enroll in charter schools in nearly the same rates as Black students.

“The composition in the South is different. Latino and Black students are disproportionately enrolled in charter schools while White students are somewhat underrepresented in comparison to the regional average. Whites in the South have traditionally been less likely than whites elsewhere to enroll in private schools, though the South has always had the largest percentage of Black students Choice without equity: Charter school segregation 21 and the most integrated schools for most of the past four decades (Orfield, 2009; Reardon & Yun, 2002). Most southern states also had a very low enrollment of students in charter schools. Combined with the lower percentage of White students in charter schools, this indicates that, although White students are also a minority of all students in the South (as in the West); they are substantially less likely than western Whites to enroll in charter schools.”

(EG Lake Onocee Charter is an anomaly though it is located in a small town with only 4 other schools, all of which had lower than average educational attainment, a problem the charter sought to fix. Racial minorities make up 25%. (Pastors argued for years against the school discouraging parents but that has begun to change.  If it successfully builds its new facility it will be educating some 40% of all students in that district.)

“The geographic skew of charter schools helps to explain some of the aggregate differences in student composition between charter and traditional public schools (see also Carnoy et al., 2005). In particular, the difference in students by poverty and race is much narrower when examining schools by geographic location. Among all schools, charter schools have a higher percentage of low-income and lower percentage of White students than traditional public schools. The difference in the percentage of poor students in either the cities or suburbs was lower than among all charter and public schools (see Table 4). Further, in towns and rural areas, charter schools actually had a lower percentage of low-income students than did traditional public schools. When comparing White students, charter schools in cities have an enrollment that is just seven percentage points lower than traditional public schools—which is a substantially smaller gap than the seventeen percentage points between all charter and traditional public schools (see Figure 1).

These individuals, Orfield and others have a point of view, a believe that desegregation must be controlled and students zoned to integrate. That flies in the face of good policy…. Desegregation further stratified the races and led to huge educational declines in by the 70s.  the point of Brown v Board was that segregation is abhorrent. Gary and others believe the only remedy are social and societal programs that force us together, rather than giving us better economic opportunities and educational freedom to come together naturally – the focus of today’s modern progressive ed reformers.

There are literally hundreds of analysis going on right now that are less biased and more related to actual data, not aggregated and mixed use of data to prove a point. Education reform activist and historian, Gerard Robinson of the Center for Advancing Opportunity offers this:

Race was a part of the founding conversations for the charter and voucher movements. One in four state charter laws includes a desegregation clause, and some voucher programs, like Cleveland’s, were begun to address what desegregation orders had not. Some reformers believe the inclusion of race as a mainstay topic takes us away from reform’s original meaning. It does not.

However, race is not the sole reason charters and vouchers were created in the early 1990s—all students were part of the equation. And the use of race as a proxy by some reformers, to gauge the seriousness of other reformers’ commitments to issues of social justice, is a relatively new phenomenon.

Including social justice in the school reform narrative adds an important dimension: class and an acknowledged history of inequality. But it must not become code for only helping black and Hispanic students, or only helping students enrolled in urban, rather than rural, schools. It must not replace what this movement was founded on: choice and opportunity for all. What about Native American students, poor white students, or Asian students who do not fit into the “model minority” category? The patriots in this analysis know that race matters, but it matters through the lens of choice and opportunity. The tyrant is in making social justice a “social just us” theme—as with many good ideas, it can become tyrannical if taken too far.

However, the biggest threat facing education today is inequality of opportunity, not school segregation. Closing the opportunity gap requires, among other things, smart investments in technology to deliver cost-effective educational services to students in rural and city schools, and strategic partnerships with social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations with proven track records of success.

They largely serve minority students, but supporters say that’s not a problem — it’s actually the point.

There are additional researchers who offer points of views that help balance this story, which we will provide to you. This annual symposium brings together researchers who are studying choice and charter school programs –

Research Provided to NBC Re: Data Sources Necessary to Understand Racial Balance Data (Hechinger Report did not follow this science)

Data Sources for Research – The Center for Education Reform

Follow us on @theCenterforEducationReform and @edreform on Twitter throughout the week for updates and engaging conversations.