study says...

City charter students narrow gap between Harlem and Scarsdale

Map of New York City charter schools, 2008-09. Schools studied in Hoxby's report are marked by a red star.
Hoxby's study examined 43 charter schools throughout the city. The schools she researched are noted on this map with red stars.

New York City charter school students are performing so well on state tests that they may soon catch up to students in Scarsdale, the upscale suburb north of the city, according to an extensive update of a multi-year charter study released today.

The optimistic projection stems from researchers’ finding that the boost charter schools give does not taper off, but is steady throughout elementary school and middle school and even into high school.

“It seems to be really stable as an effect,” said Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby, who directed the study.

Hoxby and her team studied 43 charter schools in New York City serving elementary, middle and high school students. They compared students who applied and were accepted into charter schools in 2000 by random lottery to those who applied but did not receive a seat.

By the time charter school students reached the eighth grade, in 2008, they scored on average 30 points higher on state math tests than students who remained in traditional public schools, the researchers found.

That’s almost the equivalent of closing the average achievement gap between students in traditional public schools in Harlem and students in Scarsdale, the affluent New York suburb north of the city where students take the same standardized tests. The average Harlem-Scarsdale math score gap is between 35 and 40 points, so the charter school students close that gap by about 86 percent.

Researchers found that charter schools had closed the Harlem-Scarsdale gap by a smaller but still substantial 66 percent on the state English test. They also scored nearly 3 points higher on average on their high school Regents exams for each year they attended a charter school.

Students who were not accepted into charters by lottery and continued in the traditional public school system continued to score at grade level but did not raise their scores enough to narrow the gap significantly, the study found.

The study also concluded that charter school students were demographically no different than students at surrounding traditional public schools and that the lottery process truly selected students at random. (See demographic details below.)

The study reports aggregated data for New York charters and did not track the performance of students at individual schools.

Researchers have not come to a solid conclusion about whether charter schools are more effective than public schools. Hoxby has published several other studies about charter schools. Her research regularly finds positive effects of school choice.

In an interview, Hoxby addressed many of the criticisms leveled against charter schools in recent years. Her analysis found that lottery admissions were truly random and that in general, students who applied for charter school lotteries shared much in common with traditional public school students who did not seek out charters.

Hoxby did note that parents of students rejected from charter school lotteries are more likely to transfer out of traditional public schools, whether to parochial schools or to schools outside of the five boroughs. “It’s possible their parents may be more motivated or committed to the idea of school choice,” she said.

But Hoxby downplayed criticisms that charters cater to a savvier population of students than the surrounding traditional public schools.

For example, some analysts have concluded that charter schools under-serve higher need populations such as special education students and English-language learners. Hoxby said she does not trust those studies. She thinks the differences might reflect different ways charter schools track special programs like English-language learner services and special education.

Hoxby pointed to figures estimating that charter school students are more likely to be African-American, and far more likely to be poor, than the average New York City public school student, but she noted that these are not final figures and do not include students enrolling in charter schools in kindergarten.

As in 2007, Hoxby estimated that charters schools enrolled just slightly fewer special education students. She also noted that significantly fewer English-language learners enrolled in charters, a figure that Hoxby linked to the proportionately fewer Hispanic students in charter school populations. (Search through special education data comparing charter school students and district students.)

When the first iteration of the study was released two years ago, one of the biggest lingering questions was why charter schools spurred these gains. Hoxby said that her findings could not show any causal relationship between various charter school policies and practices, but a number of school characteristics seemed to be strongly associated with high achievement.

Longer school days and school years, some form of teacher merit pay and mission statements emphasizing academic achievement were all statistically linked to high student achievement.

Hoxby emphasized that there was no guarantee that those factors caused student achievement, or that they were replicable. But that doesn’t mean that other schools cannot take lessons from the charter schools’ success, she said.

“I don’t know if I took a traditional public school in Harlem, and I said to them, ‘you’re going to have a long school year and a long school day,–I don’t know that it would have the same effect,” Hoxby said. “But there’s no reason they shouldn’t try.”

The study presents quite detailed information on charter school demographics and programs; I’ve pulled out some of the more interesting sets of data and presented them below.

Demographics of charter school applicants, enrolled students and traditional public school students: The study found no statistically significant differences between students who received spots through the lotteries and those who did not, confirming that the lotteries are truly a random selection process, Hoxby said.

[table id=1 /]

Prior special program participation of charter school applicants and traditional public school students: Because charters and traditional public schools track special education, English-language learners and free- and reduced-lunch students differently, Hoxby examined students who were already enrolled in these programs when they applied for admission to a charter. Hoxby acknowledged that her sample cannot be truly representative of the charter school population, but said that given its limitations, her data still shed some light on students served by charter schools.

[table id=3 /]

Policies and characteristics of New York charter schools: Hoxby and her researchers found that certain elements of charter schools’ educational programs were statistically linked to gains in student achievement. Programs with longer school days and years, academic school missions and some form of teacher merit pay were found to have the strongest correlation to student achievement. Many elements, including types of math and reading curriculum, were not found to be linked statistically. Programs that reserved seats for parents on charter school boards were found to have a slightly negative correlation, though Hoxby cautioned that association may be more indicative of other management problems.

[table id=4 /]

The full report is below, and can be downloaded alongside the original 2007 report here.

How NYC Charter Schools Affect Achievement Sept2009

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”