Anti-charter report gets an ‘F’ in accuracy

Students at Charlotte Lab School in uptown.
Students at Charlotte Lab School in uptown.

Here we go again, as Duke professor Helen Ladd puts forward another “working paper” that conjures up select, inaccurate data to criticize public charter schools (“Report tallies cost of charter boom to NC school districts,” Jan. 13).

As social media have painfully proven, a tsunami of statistical papers and charts is bypassing the necessary scrutiny of serious researchers and peer reviewers. This latest attack on charters, ginned up to argue – in Ladd’s own words – that public charters are “imposing an increasingly large fiscal burden” on district schools, is like a Sudoku of statistical data. There is no hypothesis, just an axe to grind. It is not peer-reviewed nor has its methodology been replicated.

Instead of taking these self-published working papers as authoritative, we should have healthy skepticism about the true agenda for these purported findings.

Consider these facts:

▪ The budget numbers claimed for Durham Public Schools (DPS) in this working paper do not come close to agreeing with the amounts provided by DPS system itself, or by the independent government audit of DPS. When comparing the independently audited amounts for 2016 and 2017, we see that DPS’s revenue went up despite charter school growth. In fact, DPS had a $311 per pupil revenue increase. This is a win for both DPS and families in Durham choosing a public charter school.

▪ More revealing is that Ladd’s paper not only includes fiscal numbers that are inaccurate, but also fails to mention district schools retain an average of 26 percent of each student’s local funding allotment when the student attends a public charter school. Therefore, the district is keeping money for students they do not serve. A public charter student receives an average of only 74 percent of local funding and the public charter school receives no allocated money for facilities.

This working paper is a smokescreen for steering attention away from how charter schools are highly regarded and in strong demand by parents and students. Consider how public charter schools have grown in our state. Thirty-four public charter schools opened during the initial year of 1997. Currently there are 173 public charter schools with more than 100,000 students enrolled. The N.C. Office of Charter Schools says there are more than 55,000 students on waiting lists.

A Rice University survey of more than 7,000 people last fall showed that 50 percent of parents with children in district public schools gave their school an A or A+, compared with 62 percent of parents with children in public charter schools.

Is it wrong for parents to have other options? Does the child exist for the system, or does the system exist for the child? Parental enthusiasm was reinforced this month when Johnston Charter Academy in Clayton held a lottery for its new K-8 school, selecting 600 students from 1,251 applications. For whatever reason, parents want choice.

Ladd’s agenda of stirring up a contrived controversy is designed to divert attention from an unassailable fact – more and more parents are insisting on the right to choose and stay with public charter schools that offer their children a quality education and a better future.

Lindalyn Kakadelis serves on the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board and is a former member of the CMS Board of Education.