Fine Print: New Charter School Study Praises NJ Gains, Draws NJ fire

Stanford researchers find significant gains for New Jersey urban charters over district schools

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What it is: The latest study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found in a study of 41 urban districts that charter schools in Newark had significantly outperformed the district schools at high levels. The study is the second by CREDO that has delivered findings about Newark; the previous one in 2012 said Newark had the widest gaps in the country.

What it means: The CREDO study has proven to be a bone of contention in itself. The Christie administration used the first one to demonstrate the need for charter expansion, while critics cited it for sloppy research.. This one is likely to be no different, but what’s notable is that the state Department of Education hasn’t even promoted it this time.

The fundamental findings: The study looked at charters in 41 urban districts and how they perform. Newark is the only New Jersey district included, and the findings are striking. For instance, the report said, 77 percent of Newark charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in math, and 69% of charters outperformed the district in language arts. “All of the charter schools in the study either outperformed or showed no statistical difference when compared to traditional schools,” the report read.

The quote: “The results of this year’s CREDO report are proof of the effectiveness and promise of charter public school education,” said Michael Turner, a spokesman for the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. “While not perfect, and no method is, the report shows that charter public schools are changing lives and continue to show achievement in spite of substantial restrictions — both economically and politically.”

The opposing view: CREDO’s research methods, not to mention the conclusions, have been the biggest point of contention among critics. The argument is that the CREDO studies do not compare school against school with comparable student demographics, skewing in favor of the charters that critics contend have fewer students in extreme poverty or with special needs.

The quote: “Charters undersubscribe the poorest students and oversubscribe the less poor, but CREDO treats those kids as matched anyway,” wrote Bruce Baker, a Rutgers University professor who has been among the most prolific critics. “Charters undersubscribe high-need special-education kids and oversubscribe mild learning disabilities, but CREDO treats those kids as matched. This creates a severe bias in favor of charters in Newark and in many other cities with similar sorting patterns and high average-poverty rates,” he said.

Department silence: The release of the 2012 report drew considerable public attention from the Christie administration and then-Commissioner Chris Cerf, citing it as proof of charter school success in the state. With charter schools becoming an ever more contentious topic since then, there was no such announcement this time.