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


Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.

Civics lesson

With district’s blessing, Newark students join national school walkout against gun violence

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools Wednesday morning in a district-sanctioned protest that was part of a nationwide action calling for an end to gun violence.

At Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities in the North Ward, students gathered in the schoolyard alongside Mayor Ras Baraka and interim schools chief Robert Gregory, who offered support to the protesters and even distributed a “student protest week” curriculum to schools.

Just after 10 a.m., hundreds of students watched in silence as a group of their classmates stood in a row and released one orange balloon every minute for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people fatally shot inside a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

While the Barringer students and faculty mourned those victims they had never met, they also decried gun violence much closer to home: siblings and relatives who had been shot, times they were threatened with guns on the street. Principal Kimberly Honnick asked the crowd to remember Malik Bullock, who was a 16-year-old junior at Barringer when he was shot to death in the South Ward last April.

“Too many lives have been lost way too soon,” she said. “It is time for us to end the violence in our schools.”

School districts across the country have grappled with how to respond to walkouts, which were scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. in hundreds of schools. The student-led action, which was planned in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, is intended to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Officials in some districts — including some in New Jersey — reportedly threatened to punish students who joined in the protest. But in Newark, officials embraced the event as a civics lesson for students and a necessary reminder to lawmakers that gun violence is not limited to headline-grabbing tragedies like the one in Parkland — for young people in many cities, it’s a fact of life.

“If there’s any group of people that should be opposed to the amount of guns that reach into our communities, it’s us,” Baraka said, adding that Newark police take over 500 guns off the street each year. “People in cities like Newark, New Jersey — cities that are predominantly filled with black and brown individuals who become victims of gun violence.”

On Friday, Gregory sent families a letter saying that the district was committed to keeping students safe in the wake of the Florida shooting. All school staff will receive training in the coming weeks on topics including “active shooter drills” and evacuation procedures, the letter said.

But the note also said the district wanted to support “students’ right to make their voices heard on this important issue.” Schools were sent a curriculum for this week with suggested lessons on youth activism and the gun-control debate. While students were free to opt out of Wednesday’s protests, high schools were expected to allow students to walk out of their buildings at the designated time while middle schools were encouraged to organize indoor events.

In an interview, Gregory said gun violence in Newark is not confined to mass shootings: At least one student here is killed in a shooting each year, he said — though there have not been any so far this year. Rather than accept such violence as inevitable, Gregory said schools should teach students that they have the power to collectively push for changes — even if that means letting them walk out of class.

“Instead of trying of trying to resist it, we wanted to encourage it,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students released one balloon for each of the 17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

After Barringer’s protest, where people waved signs saying “Love,” “Enough,” and “No to gun violence, several ninth-graders described what it’s like to live in communities where guns are prevalent — despite New Jersey’s tight gun restrictions.

Jason Inoa said he was held up by someone claiming to have a gun as he walked home. Destiny Muñoz said her older brother was shot by a police officer while a cousin was recently gunned down in Florida. The Parkland massacre only compounded her fear that nowhere is safe.

“With school shootings, you feel terrified,” she said. “You feel the same way you do about being outside in the streets.”

Even as the students called for tougher gun laws, they were ambivalent about bringing more police into their schools and neighborhoods. They noted that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they said they recently read about in their freshmen social studies class, called attention to black and Hispanic people who were treated harshly or even killed by police officers.

Ninth-grader Malik Bolding said it’s important to honor the victims of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. But the country should also mourn the people who are killed in everyday gun violence and heed the protesters who are calling for it to end, he added.

“Gun violence is gun violence — it doesn’t matter who got shot,” he said. “Everybody should be heard.”