An overwhelming majority of Newarkers support more school choice, including more public charter schools, according to a survey of Newark residents released Tuesday.
The survey, commissioned by the New Jersey Children's Foundation, polled 516 registered Newark voters Sept. 6-9 on a wide variety of questions about education in Newark. The survey was conducted by Change Research.
Nearly two thirds (63%) of those surveyed agreed with the statement that charter schools are an important part of the public school landscape and 87 percent believe parents should be able to choose the best public school for their children in the same enrollment system, including public charter schools.
"Contrary to what you might hear in the national narrative, there is a lot of public support for the historic progress Newark has made. Newark voters are still looking for more quality public school options, and they broadly support public charter schools as part of the solution," said Kyle Rosenkrans, executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation.
"We should trust the opinions of the people living in our communities and experiencing our school system every day over the opinions of national pundits," Rosenkrans said.
Newark attracted national attention when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 donated $100 million to the city in an effort to improve student outcomes. Ever since, education reformers and their opponents in organized labor have locked horns over changes that have taken place in the city.
Newarkers, however, support the changes that have taken place. By a margin of 33%-18%, more Newarkers feel that education in Newark is on the right track, according to the survey.
One issue that many Newarkers agree on is the most important issue facing Newark schools is the lack of funding and poor performance, followed closely by school safety and not enough great schools.
Nearly 60% of voters say Newark’s school facilities are in “not so good” or “poor” condition. Newark’s leaders recently called for more than $300 million to repair Newark’s school buildings and 90% of voters would support such an investment. Additionally, 56% of those surveyed support allowing public charter schools to access school buildings across Newark that are currently underused.
Teachers, represented by the Newark Teacher's Union, recently ratified a new five-year contract that eliminates merit pay for the highly rated teachers, a provision that was agreed to in the 2012 contract and made possible with funding from the Zuckerberg donation.
The survey found that a 51% of Newarkers support the new teachers’ contract, which increased teacher salaries, but eliminated merit pay.
The vast majority of voters (70%) agree that Newark's highly regarded magnet schools that under-enroll African American students should be forced to enroll a student body that is more representative.
Slightly more than half of Newarkers surveyed said they had never heard of Newark Schools Superintendent Roger Leon, who was appointed to lead the schools in May 2018. Leon has remained under the radar unlike one of his predecessors, Cami Anderson, who became a lightening rod for controversy over changes she pushed through.
The good news for Leon is that of those Newarkers who are aware the superintendent, more than two to one support him (18%/7%).