The truth about CMOs?
If you care about truthful and accurate reporting about education, then consider this tale about the authorship and content of a new report on charter management organizations.
The story begins with Education Sector co-founder Tom Toch (now Kappan’s Washington View columnist) and his extensive research on charter management organizations (CMOs) and their ability to thrive and sustain themselves long term. Toch’s 20,000-word report was finished last spring and circulated for comments in early June. You can read that draft copy here: http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2009/11/millot-read-tochs-draft-of-edsectors-cmo-report-here.html
Toch and I were negotiating a plan to have him write a shorter synopsis of the report for publication in Kappan this fall. But Toch left Education Sector over the summer and the future of the report was suddenly up in the air.
But Toch did give everyone a head’s up about his observations in an Education Week commentary in October. “Even with an infusion of federal funding, it would be difficult for CMOs to expand much more rapidly without compromising the quality of their schools. The risk, charter school finance experts warn, is that the Obama administration’s ambitious initiatives could end up leading to the opening of many marginal schools by overextended charter networks,” he wrote.
When EdSector published the report a few weeks ago (Growing Pains: Scaling up the Nation’s Best Charter Schools), Toch was not named as an author and much of his analysis was missing. Judge for yourself by reading the EdSector version: www.educationsector.org/research/research_show.htm?doc_id=1090702
What EdSector abandoned were Toch’s insightful observations about the inability of CMOs to deliver new charter schools at the scale envisioned by Secy. of Education Arne Duncan without compromising the quality of the schools. Go to his original report for the details on that.
Sometime this fall, Andy Rotherham, Ed Sector’s remaining co-founder also announced he would be leaving the nonprofit in early 2010. Was there a connection between his announcement and this sanitized report?
The beauty of the web is that those who are interested in this issue can read both reports and draw their own conclusions. One thing that’s clear, however, is that the whole affair has damaged Education Sector’s reputation for fair observation and comment.
In an era when newspapers are cutting staffs and newsholes, having access to arms-length reporting about schools obtains more and more value. Increasingly, nonprofit are the ones that will be expected to assume the mantle as objective analysts of the field. Nonprofits that accept foundation money to do their work are already often challenged by funders who want to adapt reports to fit their views — although there’s no evidence in this case that the funder wanted Toch’s work sanitized. Nonprofits with a stated agenda already present enough of a danger in a world being overcome by opinion rather than fact. Readers, beware.