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NJ Charter School Students Learn More Than Their Peers, Says New Report

Newark charters lift statewide averages, while advantages not necessarily shown elsewhere.

New Jersey’s ongoing debate about whether traditional public schools or charters do a better job educating students got some provocative new data yesterday, courtesy of a study from Stanford University that came down on the side of the charters -- particularly in Newark's embattled school district.

According to Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter school students overall made larger learning gains than their peers in traditional schools on state tests from 2007-2011.

What's more, a third of the charters showed higher achievement levels than the other public schools in their districts, with a fifth doing significantly worse, the report said.

But the details of the long-awaited report also present a more nuanced picture of charter schools in the state, indicating that they are almost as varied as the traditional public schools to which they serve as alternatives.

For instance, Newark's ever-expanding charter school network exhibited some of the highest achievement gains in the country, the report stated.

Specifically, students enrolled in charters in the state-run district made learning gains, on average, almost twice those of their peers in conventional public schools. That finding, the report explains, is the equivalent of gaining an additional seven to nine months of learning each year.

“Charter schools in New Jersey, specifically in Newark, have some of the largest learning gains we have seen to date,” wrote Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO, which has conducted charter school research in more than a dozen states.

But those gains were not replicated by charters in other New Jersey cities -- namely Camden, Jersey City, Trenton, and Paterson -- where the CREDO report said charters had not outperformed traditional schools at all.

“Grouping the other four major cities in New Jersey,” the report read, “charter students in these areas learn significantly less than their [traditional school] peers in reading. There are no differences in learning gains between charter students in the four other major cities and their virtual counterparts in math.”

In fact, outside of Newark, the comparisons statewide were more closely in line with district peers, the report said. Newark charter students represent about a quarter of all charters statewide.

Either way, every charter report comes its own debate, and this one did not disappoint. The stakes are high, as Senate and Assembly leaders continue to work on new legislation to replace the state’s 15-year-old charter law with an eye on adding both flexibility and accountability to the state’s oversight.

The Christie administration seized on the CREDO report’s overall findings, so much so that they will now stand as state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s own long-promised evaluation of the state’s charter network, his office said.

“The rigorous, independent analysis of the achievement results of charter schools in New Jersey shows that the results are clear -- on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers,” read a statement from Cerf.

The report also won plaudits from charter school organizations, including the Newark Charter School Fund, which has served as a strong funding and advocacy source for the city's charter community.

“Are all charter schools great? No, but many of the best in Newark are having a transformative impact on the students they are serving,” said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

“The CREDO report bears that out. Newark has some of the most established and well-run charter schools in the state,” she said. “I’ve visited all of Newark’s charter schools and I can tell you the best ones share similar traits, including a longer school day, a longer school year, Saturday classes, more time on task for learning, data-driven instruction, a focus on results, and an emphasis on recruiting, training, and retaining the best teachers and school leaders.” But critics of charters -- or at least the state’s oversight of them – have argued that they serve a more selective student population, and they were hardly assuaged Tuesday.

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

Joe R November 29, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Charter schools absolutely do not have the most difficult students to teach when compared to the regular public schools. They have far fewer students with learning disabilities, far fewer English learners, fewer kids on free lunch. In addition, charter schools often "counsel out" the children with behavior or learning problems. The regular public schools teach the overwhelming bulk of kids with problems of one kind or another while charter schools get all the glory. Regular public schools that are doing a great job, that are a success never get the same press, never get the same media love fest as do charter schools. Some of those charter schools in Newark get massive private funding plus public tax dollars.
Larry November 29, 2012 at 04:26 PM
what a joke... it can all be summed up by figures never lie, liars figure.... Christie wants something and will do whatever he can to get it. So he will use the positive numbers and ignore the others.... come on, first the better students are going to the charter schools and the students whose parents care about their learning are going there... so don't you think they will do better? Which makes the outcomes from the other four districts really freightening.... And what about.... "What's more, a third of the charters showed higher achievement levels than the other public schools in their districts, with a fifth doing significantly worse, the report said." To compare this to athletics.... if colleges that recruited the better players only performed to this level the coaches would be getting fired, not praised.... The bottom line is that a lot more work has to be done before you can say charter schools are the answer... and you certainly can't start forcing charter schools down our throats here in SB like you have tried.... The real answer isn't money being redistributed or charter schools but changing the culture so that parents instill in their kids the importance of education and work with them on their education... but that is a hard thing to do, so instead let's take money from the suburbs and send it to the cities because more money can solve any problem right? WRONG!

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