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Op-Ed: Collaboration Benefiting Newark Schoolchildren

As Newark transitions back to local control, an exciting time is made all the more so by the burgeoning collaboration between charter and traditional district schools

Evidence is growing that, when it comes to making sure all children have the high-quality education needed to reach their full potential, the word “and” will take us a lot further than the word “or.”

In school districts across New Jersey and especially in Newark, where my experience is focused, children are benefitting from a collaborative approach that emphasizes what can be accomplished together by traditional public schools and charter public schools. That is as opposed to defining the educational options as traditional public schools or charter public schools.

The only bottom line

It’s a good thing, too, because there should be only one bottom line: success for all students.

A recent report from Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy reinforces how powerful collaboration can be.

Six years ago, Newark launched a major education reform, fueled by $200 million in private donations, with half coming from Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. By the 2015-2016 school year, Newark students in grades four through eight had significantly improved their net growth rate in English proficiency. And, the report found, this growth was shared by students in district and charter schools.

The Harvard report went on to find that while some of the improvement was due to important “within-school” reforms such as extended learning time, professional development, and Common Core implementation, most of that growth was attributable to “between-school” reforms — which is to say enrollment shifting from lower- to higher-achievement district schools and charter schools. This school-to-school movement involved closures of some low-performing schools (both district and charter), new school openings (both district and charter), and overall expanded student choice. One of the researchers who helped produce “Newark School Reform: Within- and Between-School Changes in Achievement Growth,” Thomas J. Kane, said “Although the school closures and other reforms were wrenching for many communities in Newark, the subsequent movement of students into more effective district and charter schools seems to be paying off for children.

The other report that helps underscore the collaboration theme is “20 Years of New Jersey Charter Schools: A State of the Sector Report.” Produced by the New Jersey State Charter School Association, the report includes numerous profiles of school success stories, including the North Star Academy. The report cites North Star as a good example of “collaboration in action: a true charter-district partnership.”

It goes on to discuss a partnership that began in the 2014-2015 school year between North Star and the Newark Public Schools. At the invitation of the district, North Star successfully turned around a city elementary school that was one of the lowest performing in the state. As impressive as the achievement gains have been over the past few years, what is equally promising is that educators from North Star are collaborating with the Newark Public Schools on professional development focusing in particular on early literacy skills. The partnership so far has involved hundreds of NPS teachers, principals, and vice principals, the report said.

Now, as Newark transitions from state control of its public schools back to local control, it’s an especially exciting time — made all the more so by the burgeoning collaboration among both charter and district sectors representing the city’s public schools. We know that Newark’s future depends on everyone working together: parents and students, educators, businesses, city officials, and community organizations. There’s a right school for every child. Let’s make sure every Newark student and family finds the best opportunity for a public school education that sparks a lifelong interest in learning and instills traits needed for success. Together we can continue to grow a thriving city with great schools, strong neighborhoods, good job opportunities, and secure families.

Michele Mason is executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund, founded in 2008 to help provide all Newark students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education.

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