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.