NBC Uses Liberal Expert, Flawed Study to Go After School Choice

At the top of NBC's Nightly News on Wednesday, anchor Brian Williams teased a story on charter public schools: "In our 'Education Nation' report tonight, the agonizing lottery for kids and their families to get into the best schools, but are they the best schools?" He later declared that families "put everything on the line for a coveted spot in a charter school, but do these schools really deliver?"

Introducing a report by education correspondent Rehema Ellis, Williams touted her examining "the questions being raised about whether charter schools are truly better schools." After detailing anxious parents hoping their children would win a lottery to attend a charter school outside of Atlanta, Ellis warned: "For all the excitement around charter schools, there is also growing concern that, overall, they may not be the answer for what ails America's public schools."

A sound bite was featured from New York University education historian Diane Ravitch, who argued: "They're no silver bullet. Charters, on the whole, do not get better results than regular public schools." Ellis failed to point out Ravitch's liberal leanings. In an interview with The Huffington Post in January, Ravitch ranted against calls for reform of the public education system:

I have witnessed the profound demoralization of teachers across the nation in response to the vituperative, ill-informed and mean-spirited attacks on them....The current anti-teacher, anti-public education rhetoric is downright disheartening....Do not let the forces of ignorance, the wealthy and powerful and clueless "reformers" destroy the profession and privatize public education.

In her report, Ellis went on to note: "A recent study found only 17% [of charter schools] offer superior education. 37% were worse. About half produced the same results as traditional public schools." The study she cited was conducted in 2009 by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University.

However, in a paper titled "A Statistical Mistake in the CREDO Study of Charter Schools," Caroline M. Hoxby of the Hoover Institution pointed out significant flaws in the data: "It contains a statistical mistake that causes a biased estimate of how charter schools affect achievement....the CREDO study violates four rules for the empirically sound use of matching methods to evaluate charter schools' effects."

Ellis made no mention of problems with the study.

Here is a full transcript of the May 18 segment:

7:00PM ET TEASE:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: In our 'Education Nation' report tonight, the agonizing lottery for kids and their families to get into the best schools, but are they the best schools?

7:13PM ET TEASE:

WILLIAMS: When we come back here tonight, anxious kids and parents. They've put everything on the line for a coveted spot in a charter school, but do these schools really deliver?

7:16PM ET SEGMENT:

WILLIAMS: We are back with tonight's 'Education Nation' report. It's about charter schools in this country. They're in great demand and in short supply. So parents and children lay it all on the line, sometimes entering harrowing lotteries to get in or not. Our education correspondent Rehema Ellis reports on the tense waiting game for those relatively few spots and the questions being raised about whether charter schools are truly better schools.

REHEMA ELLIS: For parents and their children, it can be agonizing.

UNIDENTIFIED PARENT: I'm a little nervous.

ELLIS: Waiting and hoping their lottery number will come up for a seat in a public charter school. Do you have butterflies in your stomach?

TRICE EVANS: In my feet, in my toes.

ELLIS: Linda Henderson-Smith doesn't like the process.

LINDA HENDERSON-SMITH: I'm not much for gambling for education.

ELLIS: Still, she's here, desperate for her two children to avoid their district elementary school. The same is true for Sherrie Way, mother of three. They're all clinging to a longshot. 329 Students are competing for just 45 open seats at Decab Academy of Technology and Environment. It's a K-8th grade public charter school outside of Atlanta. Classes are about the same size as traditional schools, with an average of one teacher to every 24 students.

MAURY WILLS [D.A.T.E. HEADMASTER]: We're not barred with red tape, we're not limited with bureaucratic issues. I think we have the freedom and the innovation to do so much with these students.

ELLIS: In reading, math, and science, Decab Academy students scored 98% above the district and 78% above the state. For all the excitement around charter schools, there is also growing concern that, overall, they may not be the answer for what ails America's public schools.

DIANE RAVITCH [NYU EDUCATION HISTORIAN]: They're no silver bullet. Charters, on the whole, do not get better results than regular public schools.

ELLIS: A recent study found only 17% offer superior education. 37% were worse. About half produced the same results as traditional public schools. [Source: Credo at Stanford University, 2009]

Linda Henderson-Smith's children didn't get in.

HENDERSON-SMITH: He's crying. He's not very happy about it.

ELLIS: Sherrie Way's lucky number came up, but for only one of her lucky kids. Parents jumping at a chance to give their children a good education. Fighting the odds. Rehema Ellis, NBC News, Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC