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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.

Ralph Wiggums December 02, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Wait a minute...the headline says that "NJ Charter School Students Learn More Than Their Peers", but then when I read the article here and in the Ledger, the statistics state that the NJ charter schools performed equal at best and in quite a few instances, even worse than with public schools, with the single exception of Newark. How is that better? Newark maybe, but that's misleading...and of course Cerf is running with it based on Newark and pretending the other results don't exist. More spin doctoring. I would hope that when you cherry pick only students who aren't discipline problems and place them in a better environment away from the inner city public school zoos, their education would increase rapidly. That should not take a study. It should be happening in more than just Newark. Here's a novel idea: Stop taking out the handful of good kids and finding them a charter and take the bad kids out of public school and find them an alternate charter instead. Let the good kids have back the public school they are entitled to and then the scores would just as easily go up in the public schools without the classmates and teachers worrying about what Johnny Gangbanger is going to do to disrupt class for the 12th time during the week. What ridiculous spin doctoring by the politicians and the title of this article.

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