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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

A Dead Treet Hit Job On Charter Schools

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By George Mitchell

The December 6 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes “an analysis” of education test scores by the “Forward Institute, a nonpartisan, progressive public policy and educational research think tank formed in August…”

Journal Sentinel education reporter Erin Richards reports that this “nonpartisan, progressive” group finds that “traditional public schools have higher achievement scores than charter schools” for low-income students.  To emphasize this alleged finding, the article is headlined, “Poverty less damaging to public schools' scores than charters', report finds.”

Richards reports without irony that the “nonpartisan, progressive” group released its study at a news conference hosted by a Democratic state senator.  She concludes her article: “The analysis recommends that policy-makers call for a re-evaluation of charter-school performance and that they not tie assessments with direct consequences for schools or teachers, such as educator evaluations, to the results of the report card system.”

The article’s headline and Richards report encourages readers to conclude that the findings in the so-called “analysis” represent a serious comparison of “traditional public schools” and charter schools, the latter group being one that is strongly opposed by teacher unions and many Democrats. 

Readers might have reached a different conclusion if Richards had informed them that Scott Wittkopf, Chair of the Forward Institute is also the co-founder of Wisconsin Movement.  As the Wisconsin Movement’s website explains:  "Welcome to the Wisconsin Movement, a Political Cooperative. We are forming a new kind of political organization. The last year has been historic in Wisconsin. The fire ignited by the actions of Scott Walker and his contingent in the legislature has Wisconsin residents of all persuasions united in their efforts to remove them from office."

Or, Richards could have told readers how Amy Janczy, co-author of the “analysis,” is described in a Slate story on Act 10 protesters and the Koch brothers:

“None of the protesters knew the other, but some of them bonded over their obsession: the influence of David and Charles Koch, two of the wealthiest men in America, donors to a bouquet of libertarian and Tea Party causes. Amy Janczy, from Lake Mills, Wis., carried the "Drunk With Power" sign; David Wend, from Madison, carried the "Puppets" sign. They stopped to talk.

"I've been doing a lot of reading about the Kochs," explained Wend.

"I read the legislative summary of the Budget Repair Act," explained Janczy, "and saw the stuff in there about the giveaways for the power plants. I saw the Kochs' fingerprints on that."

Further, Richards might have told readers that Sara Schulz, Communications Director of Forward Institute, was a radio host whose Facebook page is filled with partisan politics and anti-Walker rhetoric.

To wrap things up, Richards might have reported that Nathaniel Haack, Secretary at Forward Institute, is also the program director for Voces de la Frontera and county coordinator for United Wisconsin.

But of course any of that information would have negated Richards’ laughable characterization of the Forward Institute as “nonpartisan.”  So Richards omits it all.

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