Harvard Study Adds to Growing Body of Evidence About Progress in Newark Schools

A study released by Harvard University shows that Newark schools are providing positive results for students and that reforms have empowered families to choose better schools for their children


[Newark, NJ – October 16, 2017] – A study released today by Harvard University adds to a growing body of evidence about the progress being made by Newark schools. The study out of Harvard’s Center for Education Policy and Research by researchers Thomas Kane, Douglas Staiger, et al, finds positive results when examining growth on net value added scores between 2010-11 and 15-16, and shows that ‘between-school reforms’ have driven a majority of this growth.

“This study confirms the progress that is being made in Newark schools and shows that reforms undertaken – particularly in areas like citywide enrollment and expansion of high quality schools – are making a real difference for Newark students. Whether you look at PARCC scores, student growth percentile, value-added scores, or graduation rates, student outcomes are trending in a positive direction in Newark. The data shows us that the seeds planted in earlier years are now yielding rewards for students. Today, thousands more Newark students are reading and doing math on grade level than just a few years ago and as a result, these students have a better chance at attending college or pursuing a meaningful career when they leave our schools” 

Overall, this information shows [see here to deeper analysis of report by NPS]:

  • Newark Schools are providing better results for students. The study shows improvement in growth rates in recent years in ELA, and shows results in Math that are consistently higher than the state average. These findings are generally aligned with analysis NPS has shared in recent years that show results across all schools are improving for Newark students. 
  • Reforms have empowered parents and they are choosing wisely. This analysis validates one of the basic bets made in Newark’s reforms: giving parents greater access to high-performing schools while closing the low-performing schools will have a positive and educationally meaningful impact on student achievement. The Kane paper reports consistent, positive value-added growth estimates for every year and every subject for the ‘between-school’ reforms – namely, expanding charters, closing the lowest performing charter and NPS schools, and universal enrollment.
  • This is one more piece of data in a growing body of evidence that shows how reforms are now improving life outcomes for Newark students. While the study focuses on results using a very specific measure – growth on value added between 2010 and 2015-16 – the latest PARCC results show even more continued improvement. When you examine the improvement of these results over time, compare Newark’s results with those from other districts, and note that graduation rates during this period are also up more than 15 percentage points since 2010 (from around 60% to 77% in 2017), the impact becomes clear. The sum of these results show us that thousands more Newark students are reading and doing math on grade level, and graduating on time, than there were in 2010. This is the goal of any educational improvement effort and our hope is to build on this progress and continue to improve these outcomes for Newark students.

The authors compare the value added scores of Newark schools in ‘pre-reform years’ with those in 2015-16 (the study does not include data from the 2016-17 school year, as it was not yet available). The study also examines whether improvement is due to ‘within school reforms’ – changes that primarily impact performance at a specific school – or ‘between school reforms’ – changes that allow students to move between schools. The findings shared in the press release about the study include:

  • Net growth in English: By 2015-16, Newark students in grades 4 through 8 in both district and charter schools had improved significantly in their net rate of growth in English.
  • Proven strength in math: Prior to the reforms, Newark’s average rate of student achievement growth in math was above the state average. Net math achievement growth remained constant by 2015-16.
  • Initial decline in growth rates: The rate of student achievement growth initially declined in both district and charter schools in English and math in the initial years of the reform, before improving in 2014-15 and 2015-16. 
  • Majority of net growth caused by shifting student enrollment: Shifting enrollment from lower- to higher-achievement growth schools—due to between-school reforms such as school closures, new school openings, and expanded student choice—was responsible for 62 percent of the gain in English.
  • K-8 charter school attendance more than doubled during reforms. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the proportion of Newark’s K-8 students attending charter schools rose from 14 percent to 32 percent as part of between-school reforms.

An additional study called “Moving Up: Progress in Newark’s Schools from 2010 to 2017” by researcher Jesse Margolis, PHD with MarGrady Research and New York University also became available last week with the release of publicly available state data. Dr. Margolis is an educational researcher who has analyzed essentially all publicly available data as it relates to Newark and connects it with other independent research. We thought this would be helpful context for the findings in Harvard’s paper.

  • Finding #1:  Total public-school enrollment in Newark has increased over time, and is higher than at any point in recent history.
  • Finding #2: In grades 3-8, Newark schools made significant strides in closing the achievement gap with the state and improved relative to similar high-need districts.
  • Finding #3: Since 2012, Newark students’ growth has improved compared to students statewide with similar starting achievement levels.
  • Finding #4: The high school graduation rate has increased dramatically from 2011 to 2017, improving at a faster rate than in the rest of the state.
  • Finding #5: Replicating and extending other researchers’ analyses with more recent data produces similar evidence of growth Newark’s schools, specifically:
    • Finding 5A: Black students in Newark are three times more likely to attend a school with test scores above the state average today than they were in 2009.
    • Finding 5B: Controlling for poverty and ELL status, Newark students show significant gains in math and ELA scores between 2009 and 2017.