Digging into the data behind The Prize

A couple months ago, Dale Russakoff’s The Prize came out to much acclaim. Her book focuses on the politics behind Newark’s education reform movement following Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million dollar donation to transform failing schools. We had our director of special projects, Andrew Martin, who has led many of our data innovations here at KIPP NJ, take a look at the data during the period Russakoff writes about.

Specifically, he looked at charters during the five years after Zuckerburg announced the donation to the Newark schools and his findings, which he wrote in The 74 Million, paint a different picture than the political wrangling in Russakoff’s book.

Parents chose charters overwhelmingly in the first year of One Newark Enrolls

 When you look at where parents wanted to send their students in 2014, a trend becomes immediately clear. The most frequently ranked K-8 schools were charters. The highest ranked district school, Ann Street, received just five percent of the first choice from over 12,000 parents. To contrast that, North Star Academy received 25 percent of the top choices and KIPP received 17 percent.

The Prize tells the backstory of One Newark Enrolls – how it’s creators met at a retreat in Idaho and thought up the idea. It describes the lack of community support. Many reviewers and critics point out its abject failure as a policy. One thing is certain though – One Newark Enrolls gave parents options, and they used their choice to leave low-performing district schools.

Triple the number of black students have access to high-quality schools over the past 10 years

Martin also analyzed where these students ended up, not just where they wanted to go. He found that over a ten year period, three times as many black students found their way into a school that “beat the state,” largely within the charter sector.

“For 2014, the most recent year that data is available, more than 40 percent of the black students enrolled in Newark charters attended a school that beat New Jersey’s average in their grade and subject,” Martin adds. “In district schools, that was only true for six percent of students.”

Students who need extra help go to charters much more than the average student
In The Prize, Russakoff discusses former Newark superintendent Cami Anderson’s belief that charters served “a smaller portion than the district schools of children who lived in extreme poverty, and learning disabilities, or struggled to speak English.” Russakoff also highlights a shared belief of many charter critics, that “charters disproportionally attracting parents [Anderson] called the ‘choosers.’”

When looking at the data though, Martin found something else entirely. “If this narrative, also called ‘cream-skimming’ were true, you would expect to see an ever-widening gap between district and charter schools on demographic characteristics like free lunch or special education status. But that’s not the pattern that shows up in state enrollment data. In fact, the opposite is true.”

He found students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch leaving the district schools for charters. In fact, in 2015, Newark charter schools enrolled more students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch than Newark district schools.

Independent research has found Newark’s charters are among the strongest in the country

These aren’t just the findings of one analyst. CREDO, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, found Newark charter schools were the second strongest in country in a multi-year study ending in 2012. Newark charter school students gained an additional seven and a half months in reading per year and nine months per year in math compared to their traditional district school peers.

Martin says, “The CREDO work spotlighted particularly strong gains for Newark charters with African-American students. In fact, Newark’s charter sector ranked Number 1 in the nation for African-American achievement gains in reading.”

For all the political machinations highlighted in The Prize, one thing is for certain. Since students found their way out of poor performing schools and into higher performing ones, the $100 million didn’t go to complete waste.

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Michael Alderman

Marketing and Communications Specialist at KIPP New Jersey
Michael is the marketing and communications specialist at KIPP New Jersey. You can contact Michael on Twitter @malderman_.