The Download: Schoolyard rumble

A new study on schooling in America, a new round of charges and counter-charges about overblown claims of charter school success, skewed data sets, and incomplete analyses. Put it all together and it’s no wonder that research on what’s happening in US schools often generates more heat than light.

The latest focus of debate is a study released last week looking at attrition rates and funding levels for KIPP charter schools. The study, conducted by researchers at Western Michigan University, reported that KIPP schools suffer from exceptionally high attrition rates, especially among black male students, and they receive considerable private funding that augments public funding that is already more generous than district public schools in their area. The study was released last Thursday, and has received considerable attention, including coverage in New York Times, Education Week, and the Baltimore Sun.

But the leaders of KIPP, which runs 99 charter schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia, are crying foul. In this statement, KIPP officials say the figures on attrition are an “apples-to-oranges” comparison that doesn’t account for students switching schools within the comparison districts, and they maintain the study also contains straightforward errors in its count of KIPP students. The added private funding that the study claims KIPP schools enjoy is less than half what the study reports, says KIPP, because the report did not include data from all KIPP schools and did not distinguish between operating and capital expenses.

KIPP officials were provided a copy of the report last Wednesday, the day before its release. But even if they had been given a few more days, the report itself was done and not going to be revised in light of any comments school leaders might have provided. Education research has become so polarized – the lead Western Michigan researcher has done work in the past for the American Federation of Teachers – that studies are immediately seen as providing ammunition to one side or another. If researchers are so confident in their findings, why not share them well ahead of time with those that are the subjects of inquiry to see whether there are, as KIPP leaders claim, errors of fact that can be corrected before a study is released?

Some disputes would invariably still come down to matters of judgment – what is the proper comparison with district schools in assessing attrition rates? How should different sorts of revenue be categorized? But there also should be some facts that are just facts, and making sure there is agreement on these ought to be something everyone strives for. There is enough to argue over when it comes to the interpretation and meaning of school studies.

                                                                                                                                                                            –MICHAEL JONAS


Joe Battenfeld hits the municipal authority rebuilding the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station for putting Sean Curran, a top fundraiser for Gov. Deval Patrick, on the payroll, and then hiring an outside communications firm to explain just what Curran did for the agency. The State House New Service previously reported that Curran only registered as a lobbyist at the end of his six-month contract. 

The number of families using Danvers hotels as emergency shelter expands and contracts with the funding for state programs addressing homelessness, according to a report in the Salem News.

Republicans claim that they didn’t have time to read the 45-page supplemental spending bill the day before lawmakers debated it.

The Springfield Republican argues that House leaders should not have used a public facility like the University of Massachusetts Amherst for their closed door retreat.


Municipalities can benefit when for-profit companies buy nonprofit hospitals. The Salem News reports that Beverly would reap $800,000 a year in new tax revenue if Beverly Hospital is sold to Northeast Health System.

Haverhill ’s mayor and police chief want to start charging interest on overdue payments from contractors for police details, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Mattaposiett faces a lawsuit over tribal fishing rights after a confrontation between a shellfish warden and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag.


The Globe reports on the makeover efforts underway at the 35 Massachusetts schools deemed underperforming under the state’s year-old reform law.

The Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester, long a national exemplar of how to integrate special needs students into regular classrooms, gets a shout-out.

The Globe looks at the boon MIT has been to Cambridge’s bottom line.

Opinions split in Lynn and Revere on how to evaluate teachers, the Item reports.

A weekend conference on campus aimed at putting God back in Harvard drew praise – and protests, the Crimson reports.


Barack Obama‘s campaign kickoff video dispenses with all manner of hope and change, and jumps right to the business at hand. The New York Times profiles Obama’s Chicago-based reelection effort. His campaign effort could cost some very big bucks.

Ed Kilgore, writing on The New Republic website, says Mitt Romney faces a very different, far more conservative GOP landscape as he plots another run for the Republican presidential nomination. It could be better for Romney, says Kilgore, but most likely will be worse. Romney‘s effort is evidently what passes for a low-key campaign these days. 

Jed Babbin, undersecretary of defense in the Bush 43 administrations, writes in the American Spectator that the current field of Republican contenders is just offering more pabulum and could use a dose of loose cannon John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, to galvanize voters against President Obama.

The Atlantic examines the impact of changing demographics on the next White House race.

Michele Bachmann tells Iowans she’s no Sarah Palin


Republicans want to cut $4 trillion out of the budget over the next decade, and reshape Medicare entirely. 

Groups facing budget cuts are suddenly speaking with a decidedly rightward bent. 

Did TARP succeed or fail? That depends on whom the bailout was supposed to help, Slate argues

John Dickerson says an improving economy lowers the chances of an apocalyptic government shutdown. 


New England’s electricity customers and nuclear plant owners have poured close to $1 billion into a waste fund for the last 30 years but have nothing to show for it, according to a story by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Save the environment. Stop eating cow meat, reports Time.

The Cape Cod Times argues that town officials should stop worrying about the amount of pesticides and herbicides used by utilities and start worrying about the chemicals used by homeowners on their lawns and gardens.


Fidelity has quietly moved the Johnson family’s 100-person wealth management office from Boston to New Hampshire, taking advantage of the Granite State’s lower taxes on family trusts. 

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting, stating the obvious, says Red Sox tickets are hard to come by. The center’s analysis in the Lowell Sun may change if the Sox keep playing the way they did this weekend.


John Quackenbush, a professor and researcher in genomics and computational biology, talks about the meaning of race on WBUR.


A report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center shows Gov. Deval Patrick’s local aid cuts for 2012 represent a nearly 40 percent reduction over the past four years, adjusted for inflation. Via the New Bedford Standard Times.


Ray Flynn talks about the break-in at his South Boston home and the community reaction after thieves stole priceless mementos from his time as Boston mayor and US ambassador to the Vatican.


Boat dealers, reeling from the economic downturn of the past several years, think there’s some indication things are looking up, from the sales of high-end boats to the higher number of loans being used to make boat purchases.


Fall River and New Bedford officials say the proposed South Coast rail is key to drawing people to live in their area, but Census figures show train service is a mixed bag, at best, and its impact on community growth hard to gauge, the Brockton Enterprise reports.

MBTA General Manager Richard Davey is getting a plainclothes security detail after an ugly encounter with a Harvard Square fruit vendor. 

Ridership on the T’s line to T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island is only half what it was projected to be. 

Operators of private jets do not have to divulge their flight plans after a vote in the US House of Representatives.


US Rep. Mike Capuano was joined by a Democratic colleague from Illinois, Luis Gutierrez, in calling for immigration reform at an East Boston rally organized by a statewide Latino immigrant advocacy group.

The Berkshire Eagle explores the ramifications of the growing Latino population in the Berkshires and argues that some mechanism must be found to help qualified people find suitable jobs.

Want to get The Download delivered immediately to your inbox or Reader? Sign up for the RSS feed.