I’m currently interviewing people from some of the charter schools mentioned in John Fitzgerald’s MN2020 report slagging the financial management of public schools.
While I’m working on that, though, I thought I’d check into the media’s coverage of this “story”. Remember: MN2020 is a “non-partisan” “progressive” think tank that employs a number of former Twin Cities media figures – partly for their obvious skills, and partly because nobody can get placement from news media people like other news media people.
It’s probably not a surprise that the “progressive” Daily Planet ran the entire report verbatim. I don’t know that MN2020 and the Daily Planet get their money from the same place, but their sources are certainly cousins.
It’s not “Media”, but on the “Parents United for Public Schools” website (PUfPS is an astroturf group that, I’ll bank dimes to dollars, gets its money from the same non-profit trough as MN2020), in a piece slugged “critics can’t answer the reports allegations!”, the author of a piece citing the MN2020 report writes:
Some wondered why we didn’t separate severe findings (called material deficiencies) from less severe findings (called significant deficiencies). We didn’t separate them because significant deficiencies can become material deficiencies, and when they do, the taxpayer loses.
It’s John Fitzgerald, of course, writing about his own report. And he tries to answer one of the criticisms I, among others, raise; why did he count hundreds of tiny, niggling, piddling infractions (more tomorrow) in the same category as the real, severe problems?:
Significant deficiencies are like a benign melanoma – checking it early can help avoid disastrous problems later. We determined both levels were important enough to note in each school’s tally.
Which would be an honest answer, but for the fact that Fitzgerald did not distinguish between trivial and serious issues when he concluded that Minnesota should abandon charter schools.
EdWeek links the report without any actual fact-checking.
On the other hand, Minnesota Public Radio ran the report’s marquee point – the percentages of schools that had issues – pretty much verbatim. But reporter Elizabeth Baier also dug beneath the numbers to the real issue (emphasis added):
In a statement, the Minnesota Department of Education said both school districts and charter schools frequently have “findings” in the financial audits they submit to the state. Districts and charter schools are required to submit plans to the Education Department to correct their financial shortcomings, but the department said it’s up to the local school districts and charter school boards to make sure corrective action is taken.
The think tank report follows a 2008 report by the state auditor which also raised questions about financial management at charter schools. In that report, the auditor’s office recommended that charter school board members be required to attend financial management training. It also found that charters were roughly comparable to district schools in terms of financial health.
Er – how’s that?
But John Fitzgerald’s report looked at the same findings that the Legislative Auditor looked at and used it to launch a call to shut down schools that had issues! And yet the Legislative Auditor merely suggested better finance training?
Question, John Fitzgerald: does this mean we should shut down public schools, too?
(KSTP-TV , the Pioneer Press, WCCO, the Winona Daily News, the Worthington Post carried roughly the same report, both of which credited the AP, and included a shorter mention of the Auditor’s actual conclusions).The Duluth News Tribune did the same, but added material related to a Duluth charter which was found to be among the “worst offenders” in the report.
Among bloggers? “Phoenix Woman” at Mercury Rising dives into the deep end of the “Racism” pool in a comment to her own post (which brought us nothing otherwise but ad-homina against charter school organizer Al Fan and the sense that she thinks charter schools are a conservative phenomenon, just as MN2020 told her they are):
The problem in Minnesota is that a lot of folks got bamboozled, especially in the Native American community, early on about charter schools. That’s why we have so many of the danged things. (It was a school targeting Native American kids whose director just got caught taking $1.4 million from the till.) If there’s a pedagogical equivalent of “greenwashing”, the buying off of the local Native American and African-American communities WRT charter schools is definitely it.
I’d like to take that question to the parents of Native American students – who have the lowest gradation rates of any ethnic group in the public system, and who are closely involved in the many Native American charter schools around Minnesota – and get their reactions.
Heck, I’d like to get yours.
Tomorrow (or, possibly, Wednesday): A look at the “infractions”.