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UPDATE: NewSchools Responds on Charter Networks Study

UPDATE: Jonathan Schorr of NewSchools Venture Fund has emailed me about their approach to the charter study released last week:

"The exclusive was totally legit," Schorr said "There was no separate arrangement; all dissemination plans were worked out cooperatively between NewSchools and Mathematica, and the TIME exclusive from our perspective was a fairly standard effort to get the report some attention in the mainstream media that such studies rarely receive."

A new national study of academic progress in charter networks—which my colleague Nirvi Shah wrote about yesterday and this morning—is already generating debate among the commenters here. Yet it also highlights some interesting ways research on controversial issues gets channeled in our 24/7 blogo-news world.

It seems the NewSchools Venture Fund—which managed the research project on behalf of sponsors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation—wanted to keep a close watch on the release of a study that found some bright stars among charter managers but no overall academic benefit for a school being run by a charter network. While media, including Education Week, were told the report would be embargoed until Friday, Eduwonk and longtime charter school proponent Andy Rotherham gave his take on the study in a Time column on Thursday.

The research groups who conducted the study, the Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell, said they provided an exclusive release for Rotherham at the behest of NewSchools.

"There were a lot of players involved here" in the report roll-out, according to Jennifer de Vallance, Mathematica spokesperson. "We were working with CRPE and with New Schools and it was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Walton foundations. Some of the folks that were involved in the project had worked with Andy in the past."

Paul Hill, CRPE director and research professor was more specific, noting that New Schools "operated as sponsors of the study. Any agreement was made by them and not by us." New Schools did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment.

The Time column focused on the need to accept the risk of bad charter schools in order to find and support the great ones. Rotherham disclosed that he was on an advisory board for the early design of the study and noted that he is affiliated with CRPE and has consulted for Mathematica—but he did not mention the NewSchools Venture Fund's role in the study. He noted, though, that his consulting group, Bellwether Education, "also works with the funders who commissioned the study," meaning Gates and Walton. (Education Week's parent corporation, Editorial Projects in Education, also receives support from Gates.)

None of that is to say that Rotherham's perspective lacks merit or that NewSchools didn't handle the release of the report as it saw fit. Yet it does bring a note of caution that even when studies are conducted by well-respected research groups, a little message management comes with the territory.

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