Garden State Surprise: Charter Students Outsmart Public Peers

Kids attending charter schools in New Jersey are significantly outperforming students at traditional public schools.

Students attending charter schools are doing better on average in math and reading in New Jersey. (Photo: Digital Vision)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

If you are a parent, you may agonize over whether to send your kid to a charter or the neighborhood public school. If you live in New Jersey, results from a Stanford University study may make this decision a little easier.

According to a first-of-its kind report, charters in the Garden State are significantly outperforming traditional public schools.

The study by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) analyzed five years of data, from 2007-2011, and six tested grades (third to eighth). Based on test scores, 30 percent of charter schools had more positive learning gains in reading, and 40 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in math. Gains in reading and math were highest in the urban charter schools.

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Black and Hispanic students in poverty also performed better in these subjects than black and Hispanic kids in poverty attending traditional public schools.

Dr. Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University, said in response to the report: "Charter schools in New Jersey, specifically in Newark, have some of the largest learning gains we have seen to date. These results demonstrate that charter schools can thrive in a constructive policy environment and prove to be a high-quality option for parents and students."

Newark schools have been in the spotlight this month not only for charters, but also for new teacher contracts. Hopefully, the new deals will help to boost student performance within the troubled system.

Education Week reports that for the first time, "some teachers will have the opportunity to earn up to $12,500 extra for getting a superior performance rating on evaluations, teaching in a low-performing school, or teaching a high-need subject. Also for the first time, peer reviews will become a formal part of the evaluation process."

In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to the school district. Teachers who are evaluated as "highly effective" will earn bonuses of $5,000 that will come out of this funding. This number doubles if educators choose to teach at the lowest-performing schools in Newark, or teach math or science. There is a shortage of qualified teachers educating students in these subjects.

The new teacher contracts and growth in charter school performance are positive signs that New Jersey schools are headed in the right direction.

For those who don't live in New Jersey, a similar analysis of charters vs. traditional pubic schools was made by CREDO in 2009. Sixteen states were surveyed.

States where charters outperformed traditional public schools included: Arkansas, Colorado (Denver), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana, and Missouri.

States with charters where students did not fare better than their public school peers included: Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas.

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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