False Claims, Inaccuracies Rife in New York Times Article On Michigan Charter Schools

First in a series exposing NYT Magazine’s sloppy and/ or agenda-driven coverage

An article in the New York Times Magazine gave a view of the state of charter schools in Michigan that is contradicted by the official record. The 7,000-plus word article on Sept. 5 was titled “Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost.” A key point in the story is that charter schools in Michigan are allowed to fail children year after year.

In seeking to portray charter schools as unregulated, the New York Times Magazine cited Gary Miron, a researcher at Western Michigan University. Miron was quoted as saying charter schools are “rarely” closed. The statewide news site MLive has called Miron “one of the nation’s foremost experts on the charter-school movement.”

The conclusion that charters are “rarely” closed is contradicted by information posted online by the state of Michigan. It includes every Michigan charter school that has been closed through 2016.

A page on the Michigan Department of Education website lists 122 public school academies that were closed from 1995 through 2016. The list does not include 11 charters closed in 2017.

Public school academies, otherwise known as charter schools, are opened when they receive a “charter,” or contract, from one of several types of institutions authorized to grant one. State universities are by far the most common authorizers in Michigan. The universities that have authorized charters have the task of monitoring their performance and can withdraw a school’s charter if it fails to improve student outcomes or meet the standards of the contract.

The author of the New York Times Magazine article stated: “Keeping the schools open, even if they’re low-performing, can become a temptation, Miron told me. He found authorizers rarely closed schools in Michigan — typically, only if the school had ‘been shamed by the media.’”

When the 11 charters closed in 2017 are added to 122 that were closed in prior years, the total number of charters that have been closed since 1995 comes to 133. There are 294 charter schools currently operating in the state.

That record doesn’t support the claim by Miron that charter schools are “rarely” closed.

Miron didn’t return an email seeking comment.

Freelance writer Mark Binelli and New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein did not return emails asking them to provide their basis for making claims that government databases reveal to be inaccurate.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a Michigan Capitol Confidential series pointing out the inaccuracies and false claims in this deeply-flawed article.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies said it reached out to the writer in a bid to add some balance, but was rejected. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which publishes Michigan Capitol Confidential, was mentioned in the article.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.