Anatomy of an NEA Factoid

The Education Writers Association held its national seminar in Boston last week and as part of a panel on “growing pains in the charter sector” invited National Education Association staffer David Welker to speak.

I wasn’t present so I can’t address the overall context of Welker’s presentation or the panel itself, but I did notice what portion NEA’s communications department sought to highlight.

Welker helpfully had a slide depicting this “ed trend.”

You have to zoom in to see that he cites figures from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report “A Closer Look at the Charter School Movement.” Yep, there are fewer charters opening than in previous years and more charters closing than in previous years. Unfortunately for Welker and NEA, there are several reasons why this isn’t indicative of the industry’s problems.

1) If 500 charter schools opened last year and 499 opened this year, and if 1 closed last year and 2 closed this year, the parameters of Welker’s comparison have been fulfilled. But you still opened 999 charters and closed 3.

2) If a single charter school is opened and enrolls 1,000 students, and 10 are closed with 50 students each, you still have a net gain of 500 students.

3) Teachers’ unions are firm advocates of either imposing or maintaining caps on the numbers of new charter schools all across the country. To then argue that fewer are opening is akin to kicking someone in the face and then using the bruises as evidence of his poor health.

4) I don’t know how many new members NEA recruited over the last five years and how many retired or quit, but I do know the union had a net loss of more than 278,000 members. Over the same period of time, charters had a net gain of 1.28 million students. Which industry has more problems?

The NAPCS report shows that nine states had fewer charter schools in 2015-16 than they had in 2014-15. But only one – Iowa – had lower charter school enrollment. Nationally, the number of charter school students grew by 9 percent over the previous year.

I like to think the reporters in the audience were skeptical of NEA’s presentation. The photo evidence suggests at least one panelist was unimpressed.