TEN IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT NEW JERSEY CHARTER SCHOOLS… AND FIVE WAYS TO IMPROVE THE NEW JERSEY CHARTER SECTOR

Mark Weber, Ph.D.

Full Report: NJCharterReport4_22_19

Let’s get one common set of facts and make sensible decisions.”

– NJ Governor Phil Murphy, speaking about charter schools, 3/29/18[1]

Over the past decade, the charter sector has boomed in the Garden State. In the 2017-18 school year, charter enrollments had grown to nearly 50,000 students, or 3.6 percent of the state’s publicly-funded student population, more than doubling the 21,300 students just eight years ago.[2]

Unfortunately, during this period of charter growth, little if any attention has been paid to many of the realities of charter school expansion. Too often, claims of “success” based on the test outcomes of a handful of charters have replaced a clear, data-driven view of the entire sector in New Jersey.

In this report, I explain ten important points about New Jersey’s charter schools that are often ignored yet are critically important for policymakers and stakeholders to understand. Good charter policy simply isn’t possible unless we agree on this common set of facts.

Next, I suggest five ways the Murphy administration, the NJ Legislature, the NJDOE, and the State Board of Education could improve the state’s charter sector. All of these suggestions could be implemented within a year, would have minimal cost, and would improve both the state’s charter sector and the state’s public district schools.

The NJDOE’s recent pause in granting new charters makes this an excellent time to provide new perspectives on New Jersey’s charter sector. I hope this report spurs a long overdue conversation about how to make our state’s charter sector better.

[1] https://www.njtvonline.org/news/video/future-charter-schools-new-jersey/

[2] Weber, M. A., & Rubin, J. S. (2018). New Jersey Charter Schools: A Data-Driven View – 2018 Update, Part I. https://doi.org/10.7282/t39z983m

Are Graduation Rates Really Improving Faster in Camden and Newark, New Jersey?

Mark Weber

PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Education

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

February 13, 2018

Download PDF of Policy Brief: Weber.GraduationRates.2-12-2018

Summary

In this research brief, I explore the claims made by state and local officials that Newark and Camden schools have seen remarkable gains in graduation rates over the past several years. I find:

  • Comparisons of growth in graduation rates between districts like Newark and Camden and the rest of New Jersey’s districts are invalid, as many districts have graduation rates that are approaching 100 percent and therefore cannot get any larger.
  • The better approach is to compare Newark and Camden to similar districts: those in District Factor Group “A” (DFG-A), which have large populations of students in economic disadvantage and students of color.
  • I find that all of New Jersey’s DFG-A districts have had rising graduation rates over the past six years – Newark’s and Camden’s gains are not statistically significantly different from similar districts across the state.
  • One explanation for the rising graduation rates may be the increasing use of “credit recovery” programs. These programs, which often place students at risk of dropping out into on-line learning programs, are controversial as there is little research on their proliferation or outcomes.
  • New Jersey should regulate credit recovery and similar programs to determine whether rising graduation rates truly reflect better instruction in the state’s high schools.

Newark’s Schools: The Facts

PDF of Brief Baker.Weber.Newark.12-13-17

This brief is in three sections:

In Part A, we argue that those studying school reforms must give more thorough consideration to history and context. In Newark, that context includes:

  • The importance of the Abbott rulings, which brought resource advantages to Newark and similar New Jersey school districts that have effects even in the present.
  • The proliferation of charter schools – specific to Newark, charters with significant resource advantages over the public district schools.
  • The stabilization of poverty rates in Newark, even as poverty increased in surrounding districts.

All of these factors have influenced Newark’s schools, even if they are rarely discussed.

In Part B, we argue that analyses of the relative effectiveness of Newark’s schools over time should make efforts to consider variations and changes in resources available and should also consider factors that constrain those resources. Analyses should also consider how changes to outcome measures might compromise model estimates and eventual conclusions. We undertake such an analysis and find:

  • Much of the “growth” of Newark’s test scores, relative to the state, can be explained by the transition from one form of the state test (NJASK) to another (PARCC) in 2014-15. There is no evidence Newark enacted any particular reform to get those gains, which are actually quite modest.
  • The fact that other high-poverty districts close to Newark showed similar small gains in growth also suggests those gains are not unique to Newark.
  • Newark’s high-profile charter schools are not exceptionally efficient producers of test score gains when judged by statistical models that account for resource differences.

In Part C, we explore some of the substantive differences that exist between Newark’s high “value-added” charter schools and district schools (and other charter schools) yielding less “positive” outcomes. Those differences include:

  • Newark’s high-profile charters enroll substantially fewer special needs students proportionally. The special needs students those charters do enroll tend to have less severe and lower-cost learning disabilities.
  • North Star Academy, one of Newark’s highest-profile charters, enrolls substantially fewer students in the greatest economic disadvantage. Recent studies, however, do not acknowledge this difference, leading to unwarranted conclusions about North Star’s relative productivity.
  • Newark’s charters enroll very few Limited English Proficient (LEP) students.
  • Newark’s high-profile charters show substantial cohort attrition: many students leave between grades 7 and 12 and are not replaced. As those students leave, the relative test scores of those school rise.
  • Newark’s high-profile charters have very high student suspension rates.

The Sweeny-Prieto School Aid Proposal: An Analysis

Mark Weber

Doctoral Candidate

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

POLICY BRIEF: Weber_SweeneyPrieto_June26_2017

SUPPLEMENTAL FILE (Regression Output): SweeneyPrietoLog

Executive Summary

This brief presents an analysis of the school funding plan presented by New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, referred to here as “Sweeney-Prieto.” The proposal:

  • Will drive more aid to districts with higher proportions of Hispanic, free lunch-eligible, and LEP students.
  • Will drive less aid toward districts with students classified as having a special education need.
  • Will drive more aid on average to districts in the CD District Factor Group; however, there is great variety among these districts, with some losing significant amounts of aid.
  • Will give less aid to very small districts.
  • Will drive aid towards districts making greater local taxing effort, holding school cost and taxing capacity

While this last characteristic makes Sweeney-Prieto more “fair” overall, there are still individual districts that are receiving significantly less or more aid than would be predicted by measures of cost, capacity, and effort.

In addition, the aid allocated under Sweeney-Prieto is less than 2 percent of the aid proposed by the governor’s budget for FY18; the proposal, therefore, has little overall effect on the bringing New Jersey’s school budgets to adequacy as designated by the state’s own funding law.

Based on these conclusions, I offer the follow recommendations:

  • Policymakers should ensure that those districts receiving significantly less aid per pupil under Sweeny-Prieto – particularly those whose changes in aid are far under prediction – do not suffer undue harm from the proposal.
  • Lawmakers should carefully consider the unintended consequences of basing the reallocation of aid largely on factors such as the Growth Cap or Adjustment Aid, and adjust the allocation of aid accordingly.
  • All stakeholders should realize the scale of Sweeney-Prieto renders it largely ineffective in making up for the chronic underfunding of SFRA over the last eight years.

 

 

On the Relative Efficiency of New Jersey Public School Districts

PDF of Brief: Baker.Weber.NJEfficiency_8_2_16

Bruce D. Baker

Mark Weber

Contrary to current political rhetoric, New Jersey’s least efficient producers of student achievement gains are not the state’s large former Abbott districts – largely poor urban districts that benefited most in terms of state aid increases resulting from decades of litigation over school funding equity and adequacy. While some Abbott districts such as Asbury Park and Hoboken rate poorly on estimates of relative efficiency, other relatively inefficient local public school districts include some of the state’s most affluent suburban districts and small, segregated shore towns. And yet these districts will be, in effect, rewarded under Governor Chris Christie’s “Fairness Formula,”[1] even as equally inefficient but property-poor districts will lose state aid.

Findings herein are consistent with previous findings in cost-efficiency literature and analyses specific to New Jersey:

  • There exists some margin of additional inefficiency associated with Abbott status relative to non-Abbott districts in the same district factor group, but the margin of additional inefficiency in the poorest DFG is relatively small.
  • The state’s most affluent suburban districts – those with the greatest local fiscal capacity and currently lower overall tax effort – tend to have equal degrees of inefficiency as compared to less-affluent Abbott and non-Abbott districts.
  • Districts in factor group I (the second highest category of socio-economic status) have the largest ratio of students enrolled in inefficient relative to efficient districts.

Coupling these findings with those of similar studies in New Jersey and elsewhere, it makes little sense from an “efficiency” standpoint alone to re-allocate resources from high-need, low-income, urban districts to affluent suburban districts for the primary purpose of tax relief. This policy proposal is based on the false assumption that the poor urban districts are substantively less efficient than affluent suburban districts to begin with, and ignores that providing such increases in aid to affluent suburban districts tends to stimulate even greater inefficiency.

Put bluntly, the Governor’s proposal not only fails on a) tax equity and b) student funding equity, as previously explained by Weber and Srikanth, but the “Fairness Formula” proposal also fails on the more conservative economic argument of “efficient” allocation of taxpayer dollars.

[1] http://www.nj.gov/governor/taxrelief/pages/formula.shtml

How Fair is the “Fairness Formula” for New Jersey School Children & Taxpayers?

Mark Weber, PhD Student, Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Ajay Srikanth, PhD Student, Rutgers Graduate School of Education

PDF Policy Brief: Weber.Srikanth.FairnessFormula.June_30

Executive Summary

This brief provides a first look at the “Fairness Formula,” Chris Christie’s school tax reform plan. In this analysis, we show:

  • The “Fairness Formula” will greatly reward the most-affluent districts, which are already paying the lowest school tax rates as measured by percentage of income.
  • The “Fairness Formula” will force the least-affluent districts to slash their school budgets, severely increase local property taxes, or both.
  • The premise of the “Fairness Formula” – that the schools enrolling New Jersey’s at-risk students have “failed” during the period of substantial school reform – is contradicted by a large body of evidence.

The “Fairness Formula,” then, would transform New Jersey’s school funding system from a national model of equity[1] into one of the least equitable in the country, both in terms of education and taxation. This proposal is so radical and so contradicted by both the evidence and economic theory that even the harshest critics of school funding reform cannot support it.

[1] See: http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org

“Beating the Odds”: A Comparison of the Demographics and Performance of Charter Schools to District Schools in Jersey City

Ajay Srikanth, PhD Student, Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Bruce Henecker, EdD Student, Rutgers Graduate School of Education

February 5, 2016

Note: All opinions here are those of the authors and do not reflect those of their employers, the NJEA, Rutgers GSE, or their professors and advisors there.

PDF Policy Brief: Srikanth_Henecker.JC.Feb5_2016

Executive Summary

On May 13, 2015, the Jersey City Council passed a resolution urging the Governor and State Legislator to provide equitable funding for the charter schools in Jersey City. The council argues that the charters in Jersey City are some of the highest performing schools in the city and also serve demographically-similar students. Both of these assertions are inaccurate. On average, charter schools serve significantly lower percentages of students eligible for Free Lunch, lower percentages of Special Education students, and substantially lower percentages of English Language Learners. With respect to student achievement, charter schools do not outperform district schools in Language Arts or Math once you control for demographics.

In response to the council’s resolution, we propose the following:

  1. Recommend to the Jersey City Council that they pass a resolution requiring that charter schools operating in Jersey City hold weighted lotteries that increase the rate of students receiving free lunch, students who receive special education services, and students classified as Limited English Proficient (based on a recommendation stated in Weber and Rubin, 2015).
  1. Recommend that the New Jersey Department of Education develop an enhanced charter funding formula that takes into account the increased cost of educating students across the range of Special Education classifications so

that charters receive a reimbursement rate commensurate with type of special education students they serve.

  1. Recommend that the New Jersey Department of Education develop an enhanced charter funding formula that reduces the base-funding amounts charter schools receive if they do not accept English Language Learners at a rate consistent with that of the host district.
  1. Recommend that policymakers account for demographic differences when comparing school performance within and across sectors- district vs. charter.