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CEPR Releases First Findings on Newark School Reforms

Study from the Center for Education Policy Research reveals net gains in student achievement growth despite initial declines.

Researchers at Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) are releasing the results of the first independent evaluation using student-level data of Newark’s education reform effort, launched in 2011 following a $100 million gift from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. They find that the reforms produced net positive student growth rates in English. Sixty-two percent of the gains were driven by shifting student enrollment from lower-performing to higher-performing schools, as opposed to improvements within existing schools.

Researchers Thomas J. Kane (Harvard), Douglas Staiger (Dartmouth), Beth Schueler (Harvard), Whitney Kozakowski (Harvard), and Mark Chin (Harvard) compared the annual achievement growth of students in grades 4 through 8 attending both district and charter schools in Newark to that of students with similar prior achievement, similar demographics, and attending schools with similar student populations elsewhere in New Jersey. They focus on the period 2009–10 (before the reform) through 2015–16 (the latest year for which data were available). The researchers also calculated the proportion of the change due to “within-school” reforms (such as extended learning time, professional development, and Common Core implementation) versus shifts in enrollment toward district and charter schools with higher academic growth, a metric they call “between-school” reforms.

Among the key findings:

  • Net growth in English: By 2015–16, Newark students in grades 4 through 8 in both district and charter schools had improved significantly in their net rate of growth in English.
  • Proven strength in math: Prior to the reforms, Newark’s average rate of student achievement growth in math was above the state average. Net math achievement growth remained constant by 2015–16.
  • Initial decline in growth rates: The rate of student achievement growth initially declined in both district and charter schools in English and math in the initial years of the reform, before improving in 2014–15 and 2015–16. 
  • Majority of net growth caused by shifting student enrollment: Shifting enrollment from lower- to higher-achievement growth schools — due to between-school reforms such as school closures, new school openings, and expanded student choice — was responsible for 62 percent of the gain in English.
  • K-8 charter school attendance more than doubled during reforms. Between 2010–11 and 2015–16, the proportion of Newark’s K–8 students attending charter schools rose from 14 percent to 32 percent as part of between-school reforms.

“Despite the disruption during the initial years of the reform, Newark seems to be on the right track,” Kane says. “Although the school closures and other reforms were wrenching for many communities in Newark, the subsequent movement of students into more effective district and charter schools seems to be paying off for children.”  


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