Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf agrees with two studies by NYU and Harvard that show reforms are working after the painful and divisive closures of under-performing schools, giving parents more choices, paying teachers more and demanding more of them and other factors that have lead to improvement.
“We are really making progress on all of those fronts. Our graduation rates is up almost 20 points,” Cerf said.
The Harvard study found student achievement for Newark’s district and charter schools declined in 2010 and 2011, the early years of reform; but there was substantial improvement in English by 2014 to 2015 and math was back on par with the rest of the state. The progress is due to several factors, among the biggest, students shifting to better performing district and charter schools.
“In the last couple of years, there is reason for optimism,” said Dr. Thomas Kane, professor of education and economics at Harvard University.
Kane co-authored the study and says the Zuckerberg/Facebook $100 million gift and the matching funds were among the factors that led to the reform movement. He says Newark benefits from strong charter schools.
“Our findings are not a blanket endorsement schools, far from it,” said Kane.
But, Michele Mason, executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund, says “The findings are encouraging and make a strong case for keeping universal enrollment, or school choice, and continuing to sustain and expand quality, innovative public school options … It’s great to see Newark setting a strong example for cities around the nation.”
“The answer to your question is found in the power of choice itself and not in the kind of schools that are being chosen. Specifically, right now in Newark, every family has the opportunity to select the public school that they think is the best fit for their child,” said Cerf.
Cerf says the results of the studies speak for themselves, but some critics still found reason to challenge the reported success.
“When you look at any of these studies that are done reformers or reform minded people, they’re fed data from this district, the report’s going to be a positive one,” said John Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union.
“If there are substantive concerns, we’d like to hear them,” said Kane.
“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. They’re not entitled to their own facts, and I think these are absolutely irrefutable facts,” said Cerf.
Cerf says as Newark transitions to take control of its schools from the state, the city has something to build on.
“We’re very, very pleased with the results,” said Cerf.
Cerf says the focus should stay on the only thing that matters: student achievement.