A progressive media-watch organization called FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) criticized New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait for failing to report his wife’s role in the charter industry when writing about (and defending) charter schools and attacking teachers’ unions.

On several occasions, Chait has written about education issues, usually to defend charter schools, although he is a political journalist with no particular expertise about education policy. He claims that he doesn’t have to disclose his wife’s role in the charter industry, because he is an opinion writer. FAIR does not consider that an appropriate justification for not disclosing his conflict.

It’s strange to see a journalist who calls himself “liberal” attack teachers’ unions. As a rule, liberals are not anti-union.

Chait’s article at the center of the controversy criticized President Biden and his Department of Education for proposing regulations that would prohibit for-profit charter management organizations from receiving federal funds. For-profit charters are typically low performing and should be an embarrassment to the entire sector, yet the charter industry lobbyists have rallied round the sleaziest of the charter chains. Since Joe Biden promised during his campaign to eliminate federal funding for for-profit charters, no one should be surprised that he is following through.

The proposed regulations also ask charter operators to submit an impact analysis, summarizing the likely effect of their charter on the existing public schools and the need for the new charter, as well as spell out their plans to collaborate with the district where they would locate. The charter lobbyists consider this idea of collaboration with district schools to be abhorrent.

FAIR did not analyze the argument about the value or harm of the regulations. It did address Chait’s failure to disclose his wife’s connection to the federal Charter Schools Program.

FAIR wrote:

NPE executive director Carol Burris, in a post on fellow education expert Diane Ravitch’s blog (5/13/22), laid out a convincing case that Chait’s latest article oversteps even the limited disclosure he had put in the article’s footnote aside.

[Burris wrote]:

Now let’s talk about what Jonathan Chait failed to disclose as he opposed the CSP regulation reforms, using the same misinformation that has appeared in other op-eds.

His wife worked for Center City Charter Schools as a grant writerwhen that charter chain received two grants from the Charter School Program (CSP), the program whose loose rules he is now defending. Download the 2019 database that you can find here and match the years of dispersion to the resume of Robin Chait. But the undisclosed conflict continues to this day. Since 2018, Robin Chait has worked for WestEd, which evaluated the CSP during the Betsy De Vos era. And her employer, WestEd, once got its own $1.74 million grant from CSP.

FAIR’s research confirmed—and expanded upon—those claims.

WestEd, where Robin Chait has worked since October 2018, has received CSP funding from the Department of Education, most notably an open grant that’s already paid out $8.1 million to evaluate CSP and work with grantees. The contract, issued in September 2020, is one of a number of high-value DOE grants received by WestEd.

Also objectionable, although FAIR does not discuss it, was Chait’s characterization of the Network for Public Education as an organization funded by the teachers’ unions, which is false. That was his way of disparaging NPE, although for the life of me, I see nothing objectionable about taking funding from unions representing the nation’s teachers. It’s not like taking money from foundations of billionaires pushing privatization of the nation’s public goods, like the Waltons, Charles Koch, Michael Bloomberg, and Betsy DeVos.