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Jersey Jazzman: What Our Latest Analysis of One Newark Means

Step #1: Bruce Baker and I wrote a report this past January about the Newark Public Schools restructuring plan, One Newark. This controversial scheme calls for closing some schools, "renewing" others -- basically, firing the entire staff and making them reapply for their jobs -- and turning over others to charter management organizations like TEAM Academy (the Newark branch of KIPP), and North Star Academy (The Newark branch of Uncommon Schools). Other schools survive unscathed.

We found:

  • Black students were more likely to see their schools turned over to charters, potentially abrogating the rights of their families.
  • Academic outcomes didn't predict whether a school faces a consequence under One Newark when accounting for student body characteristics: in other words, we couldn't find a pattern to explain why some schools were being "renewed" or turned over to a charter, and some weren't.
  • There's no evidence the children who are in NPS schools right now will do any better when they move to charters (if they move at all).

Step #2: Earlier this month, Bruce and I were joined by Joseph Oluwole in a second brief on One Newark. This time, we looked at the consequences for staff.

We found:

  • Black staff members were far more likely to have to reapply for their jobs under One Newark than white staff members.
  • Largely, this is because black teachers are far more likely to teach black students.
  • Black teachers also take on the "toughest" assignments, as measured by the state's own classifications (remember, Newark's schools have been under state control for 19 years). But, on average, their students show comparable rates of growth to the students of white teachers.
  • There is a history of discrimination against teachers of color in "choice" plans, and NPS, if it goes through with One Newark, may be susceptible to a legal challenge under civil rights laws.

Step #3: At just about the same time we released our second brief, NPS responded to our first brief. In the interests of fairness, I won't try to summarize it here. Go read it -- it's not long.

Step #4:Today, Bruce and I responded to NPS's response. Let's me lay this out in layman's prose as best as I can:

  • NPS has not questioned one of our primary findings: the consequences of One Newark are racially unequal. The poorest students are more likely to see their schools "renewed": firing an entire staff could result in unwarranted disruption of their schooling and for no good reason. Black students are more likely to see their schools turned over to charter school managers, who are, according to recent court cases, not state actors and not under the same obligations for transparency as the district.
  • NPS used averaged scale scores for their analysis; supposedly, they think this is a better method than what we used, which was Grade 8 proficiency. I could get really technical here, but it all comes down to this: a 200 in Grade 4 is not a 200 in Grade 8, so averaging across grades distorts the measures. NPS's measures of schools performance are just not valid.
  • But even when we used this flawed metric, we still can't find a pattern as to how certain schools were classified as needing intervention and certain schools were not. There is no rhyme nor reason that we can find as to why particular schools are being turned over to charters or being "renewed."
  • There is still no evidence that charters will do a better job educating Newark's student population. That's because Newark's charters don't teach similar populationsnow; they have similar kids, but in peer groups with smaller numbers of children in poverty. Logically we can't have every school in Newark have a student population with a below-average free-lunch eligible percentage -- but there's very good reason to believe that is at least part of North Star's and TEAM's advantage.
  • NPS's statistical models are flawed. Again, I could get all technical (and we do in the brief), but here's the problem: you can't have two variables in a model that are redundant (for example, you can't have a model that has "percentage of males" and "percentage of females"). In Newark, where over 90% of the student population is either black or Hispanic, the two are nearly as tightly linked as male and female. NPS includes both in their rebuttal to us. Big no-no.

So that's where we are right now. Maybe NPS will respond; maybe we'll respond right back. But let me say the following before this goes any further:

Why should a couple of education researchers have to pry the secrets of One Newark from the state-run school district? Why hasn't State Superintendent Cami Anderson publicly released the models used to determine why specific schools were targeted under One Newark?

It seems to me that, at the very least, the staff, families, and students at the schools affected by One Newark deserve some transparency. If you're going to turn over a public school to a charter company, you at least owe the families of that school's students an explanation of the thinking that went into the decision. Not platitudes, not reverse-engineered rationalizations, but a straight-up accounting of how you came to the conclusion that you did.

If you're going to force a teacher of color, who has been working in one of the toughest assignments in the district, to reapply for her job while her white colleagues are safe, you at least owe that teacher an explanation as to why she is being targeted and others are not.

If you're going to "divest" a district asset in a nebulous deal with the defense that it will lead to better student outcomes, you at least owe the taxpayers an explanation as to why you think this particular school will do better under this particular charter operator, and why "divesting" the property is a good deal for Newark's citizens.

Bruce and I do this work because this is what we do; I am challenged by this sort of analysis and am grateful for the opportunity to present it publicly (I think I can speak safely for Bruce on this point).

But it seems to me that we could save ourselves and everybody else a whole lot of time and bother if NPS would just explain to us in a clear, concise way how they came up with this plan.

Assuming, of course, that's even possible...

Newark's students, looking for an answer. Will they find it?

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Jersey Jazzman

Jersey Jazzman is the pseudonym for Mark Weber, a New Jersey public school teacher and parent. He is the Special Analyst for Education Policy at the New Jersey Po...