Public school or charter school?
New Jersey’s ongoing debate about whether traditional public schools or charters do a better job educating students got some provocative new data yesterday, courtesy of a study from Stanford University that came down on the side of the charters -- particularly in Newark's embattled school district.
According to Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter school students overall made larger learning gains than their peers in traditional schools on state tests from 2007-2011.
What's more, a third of the charters showed higher achievement levels than the other public schools in their districts, with a fifth doing significantly worse, the report said.
But the details of the long-awaited report also present a more nuanced picture of charter schools in the state, indicating that they are almost as varied as the traditional public schools to which they serve as alternatives.
For instance, Newark's ever-expanding charter school network exhibited some of the highest achievement gains in the country, the report stated.
Specifically, students enrolled in charters in the state-run district made learning gains, on average, almost twice those of their peers in conventional public schools. That finding, the report explains, is the equivalent of gaining an additional seven to nine months of learning each year.
“Charter schools in New Jersey, specifically in Newark, have some of the largest learning gains we have seen to date,” wrote Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO, which has conducted charter school research in more than a dozen states.
But those gains were not replicated by charters in other New Jersey cities -- namely Camden, Jersey City, Trenton, and Paterson -- where the CREDO report said charters had not outperformed traditional schools at all.
“Grouping the other four major cities in New Jersey,” the report read, “charter students in these areas learn significantly less than their [traditional school] peers in reading. There are no differences in learning gains between charter students in the four other major cities and their virtual counterparts in math.”
In fact, outside of Newark, the comparisons statewide were more closely in line with district peers, the report said. Newark charter students represent about a quarter of all charters statewide.
Either way, every charter report comes its own debate, and this one did not disappoint. The stakes are high, as Senate and Assembly leaders continue to work on new legislation to replace the state’s 15-year-old charter law with an eye on adding both flexibility and accountability to the state’s oversight.