A study by a Boston University professor for a New York-based think tank has determined that attending a Newark charter school is among the most impactful education interventions studied by researchers.
Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an associate professor at Boston University's Wheelock School of Education, conducted the study using data he was able to obtain from the city’s common enrollment program starting in the 2013-14 school year. His data spans up to 2017-18 school year.
The study found that attending a Newark charter school leads to “large” and “sustained” improvement for students. Winters found that students attending the KIPP New Jersey and Uncommon Schools North Star Academy charter school networks posted the largest increase in standardized test scores. KIPP and Uncommon account for about half of the students enrolled in charter schools in Newark.
The study confirms other research about the impact of charter schools in Newark. A 2015 report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that students, on average, made greater annual gains in math and reading than students in district schools.
Winters said that there are few studies that have evaluated a broad set of charter schools operating within a locality where charters enroll a substantial share of public school students as the case in Newark.
Kyle Rosenkrans, the executive director of the New Jersey Children's Foundation, said Winter's research presents "unequivocal, scientific proof that Newark’s charter schools work and are helping children learn more, faster.”
“For years, charter school educators have toiled to build schools that reflect the genius of their students, while the question of whether this was good for Newark children has been hotly debated among politicians, pundits, and journalists,” Rosenkrans said. "The scientific evidence is in, and this study should end the debate over whether this has been good for children. The answer is a resounding yes.”
Newark’s charter school sector is one of the most expansive and rapidly growing in the nation, the study noted. Newark now enrolls about a third of the city’s roughly 55,000 public school students.
Winters said he focused on Newark because it has one of the nation’s largest charter school networks that come with such a unique subset of qualifications for how students are chosen.
“It’s one of these places that have had really expansive growth of charter schools,” Winters said in an interview with TAPInto Newark. “Growth that doesn't seem to be slowing.”
Winters said the report seeks to answer the question: What is the difference in later outcomes for students who enroll in a charter school, compared with the outcome that the same students would have achieved in a traditional public school?
The most convincing studies, Winters said, are those that take advantage of randomization within the process of assigning students to charter schools -- as in the case of a lottery. This approach, which is modeled on medical trials, is known as a randomized field trial.
Because Newark has a universal enrollment system, known as Newark Enrolls, schools have a "randomized component that can be exploited to tackle the problem of unobserved differences between charter and traditional public school students," Winters wrote. Nine of the city's charter schools do not participate in Newark Enrolls and were not included in the study.
"Few previous studies in the charter school literature employ a research design that takes advantage of randomized admissions and include a broad subset of charter schools within an urban area," Winters wrote. "Several previous lottery-based studies of urban charter school impacts are limited because they observe only a small subset of charters within the locality that provided the necessary data, and some other studies evaluated charter sectors before they reached a meaningful enrollment level."
Winters said the methodology used in his study using is based on the later-year test scores of students who enrolled in a charter school in a given year—regardless of whether they remain enrolled. Winters said the results on test scores are not likely to be the result of charters removing low-performing students, as they are often accused of doing.
The success of the KIPP and Uncommon charter schools does not mean other charter schools don’t also perform well, Winters said. He said the overall increase in test scores for Newark charters is based on the fact that KIPP and Uncommon have the city’s majority of students.
"The magnitude of the impact from attending a Newark participating charter school is comparable with that found in previous research on charters in Boston and Denver,” Winters writes in the study. “To place the result into context, attending a Newark participating charter school has a larger effect than 80% of other educational interventions that have been recently studied using an experimental design."