Study: Test Scores Higher in Newark Charter Schools

January 20, 2020 Updated: January 20, 2020

Students who attended charter schools in New Jersey’s largest city showed greater improvements on standardized test scores in math and English language arts than their peers assigned to traditional district-run schools, according to a new study.

Marcus A. Winters, an associate professor at Boston University, analyzed the performance data from the New Jersey Department of Education of students attending traditional public and charter schools in Newark from the 2014–15 through 2015–16 school years. His study (pdf), released on Jan. 15 by New York City-based Manhattan Institute, a conservative, pro-school choice think tank, concluded that attending a Newark charter school “has a larger effect than 80 percent of other educational interventions that have been recently studied using an experimental design.”

Dubbed “Newark Enrolls,” Newark’s centralized enrollment system uses an algorithm to assign students to all traditional public and most charter schools based on their preferences. The applicant first submits a ranked list of their preferred schools and the algorithm will then use the list and a randomly generated lottery number to assign the applicant to a school. This means students with nearly identical demographics can end up in different types of schools as the result of the random assignment. Winters took advantage of this random element to better control the factors that affect student performance and solely focus on the effectiveness of charter schools.

Winters also demonstrated the lasting impact charter schools had on Newark students. His study found Newark students assigned to charter schools continued to yield higher test scores after two or three years, even though they no longer remained in those schools.

The study comes as Newark Public School Superintendent Roger León is urging the state to close four of the city’s charter schools and stop new charter schools from being started. All four schools—M.E.T.S., People’s Prep, Roseville Community, and University Heights—are part of the Newark Enrolls system, although M.E.T.S. did not participate during the years covered by Winters’ study.

Newark’s charter schools, which now educate more than a third of the city’s roughly 55,000 students, mushroomed during the mayoral tenure of Sen. Cory Booker. Along his brief journey to the Democratic presidential primary, Booker advocated for the right of low-income families to reject failing district schools in favor of higher-quality alternatives. After Booker dropped out last week, the only remaining pro-school choice Democratic candidates are Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who backed charters when he headed the Denver school system, and Michael Bloomberg, one of the biggest supporters of New York City’s charter schools.