Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Progress in Newark

In focusing on the success of charter schools in Newark, I don't want to leave the impression (as The Prize does) that charters are the only story about the gains in Newark. Consider:
·        Thanks to the new teacher contract (largely funded with Zuckerberg's money), NPS has completely redesigned the way it hires, evaluates, and supports all staff.  Specifically:
o   No longer is compensation based on time served alone, but also on whether teachers are effective in advancing student learning.
o   Since 2012, NPS has filed 115 tenure charges, mostly on the basis of ineffectiveness, and 89 of those individuals are no longer in the district. (Compare this with the prior decade where virtually NO tenure charges were filed.)
o   95% of NPS's teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective" have remained in Newark classrooms.
o   The new teacher contract allowed NPS to expand the school day in more than half of its schools.
o   The new teacher contract allowed for the design of a common-core aligned Masters program for NPS teachers.
o   No longer are teachers paid differently based on what degree they have.
o   Teacher receive a $20,000 stipend for completing a program designed and managed by the Relay Graduate School of Education.
·        Suspension rates are down 37% thanks to a new "restorative justice" approach to school discipline.
·        A new Grad Tracker system enables NPS to know, at the push of a button, which students are not on track to graduate in a way that's proactive and allows NPS to correct course
·        Today, students are no longer limited to school options based on zip code. Parents have more choices and are engaging in those choices:
o   For the 2015-16 SY, 80% of families preferred a school that was nottheir neighborhood school and 42% of families selected a high-performing charter as their first choice.
o   In addition to charter, parents have more options among NPS schools: Bard High School Early College (51 students graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 2015), Eagle Academy for Young Men, Girls Academy of Newark, and two new transfer schools, Newark Leadership Academy and Fast Track, for overage, under-credited youth.
"Ah," you might say, "but these are input measures, whereas what I really care about are output measures." In other words, are all of these changes leading to students achieving at a higher level? The answer: while it can take years for positive changes to show up in the data, the early indications are very promising:
·        The high school graduation rate in Newark's public schools (NPS) has risen from 56% in 2011 to 70% in 2014.
·        The percentage of Newark students passing NJ's High School Proficiency Assessment test has risen from 31% to 39%, a 25% improvement, over the same period.
Lastly, it would be wrong to conclude, as The Prize would lead you to believe, that the reform efforts in Newark were/are not supported by "the community." Yes, the forces of the status quo stirred up a lot of trouble, but what about the 42% of parents choosing a charter as their first school choice? What about the 80% of parents choosing a school other than their neighborhood school? What about the 10,000 parents on a waiting list of charter schools? What about the 6,000 children who have dropped out or are on a path to drop out? They are part of the community too (even if they weren't showing up to scream at Cami) and their actions in seeking a better education for their children speak loud and clear. Shame on us if we don't take their voices into account just because they're not the loudest ones.

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