study says...

City charter students narrow gap between Harlem and Scarsdale

Map of New York City charter schools, 2008-09. Schools studied in Hoxby's report are marked by a red star.
Hoxby's study examined 43 charter schools throughout the city. The schools she researched are noted on this map with red stars.

New York City charter school students are performing so well on state tests that they may soon catch up to students in Scarsdale, the upscale suburb north of the city, according to an extensive update of a multi-year charter study released today.

The optimistic projection stems from researchers’ finding that the boost charter schools give does not taper off, but is steady throughout elementary school and middle school and even into high school.

“It seems to be really stable as an effect,” said Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby, who directed the study.

Hoxby and her team studied 43 charter schools in New York City serving elementary, middle and high school students. They compared students who applied and were accepted into charter schools in 2000 by random lottery to those who applied but did not receive a seat.

By the time charter school students reached the eighth grade, in 2008, they scored on average 30 points higher on state math tests than students who remained in traditional public schools, the researchers found.

That’s almost the equivalent of closing the average achievement gap between students in traditional public schools in Harlem and students in Scarsdale, the affluent New York suburb north of the city where students take the same standardized tests. The average Harlem-Scarsdale math score gap is between 35 and 40 points, so the charter school students close that gap by about 86 percent.

Researchers found that charter schools had closed the Harlem-Scarsdale gap by a smaller but still substantial 66 percent on the state English test. They also scored nearly 3 points higher on average on their high school Regents exams for each year they attended a charter school.

Students who were not accepted into charters by lottery and continued in the traditional public school system continued to score at grade level but did not raise their scores enough to narrow the gap significantly, the study found.

The study also concluded that charter school students were demographically no different than students at surrounding traditional public schools and that the lottery process truly selected students at random. (See demographic details below.)

The study reports aggregated data for New York charters and did not track the performance of students at individual schools.

Researchers have not come to a solid conclusion about whether charter schools are more effective than public schools. Hoxby has published several other studies about charter schools. Her research regularly finds positive effects of school choice.

In an interview, Hoxby addressed many of the criticisms leveled against charter schools in recent years. Her analysis found that lottery admissions were truly random and that in general, students who applied for charter school lotteries shared much in common with traditional public school students who did not seek out charters.

Hoxby did note that parents of students rejected from charter school lotteries are more likely to transfer out of traditional public schools, whether to parochial schools or to schools outside of the five boroughs. “It’s possible their parents may be more motivated or committed to the idea of school choice,” she said.

But Hoxby downplayed criticisms that charters cater to a savvier population of students than the surrounding traditional public schools.

For example, some analysts have concluded that charter schools under-serve higher need populations such as special education students and English-language learners. Hoxby said she does not trust those studies. She thinks the differences might reflect different ways charter schools track special programs like English-language learner services and special education.

Hoxby pointed to figures estimating that charter school students are more likely to be African-American, and far more likely to be poor, than the average New York City public school student, but she noted that these are not final figures and do not include students enrolling in charter schools in kindergarten.

As in 2007, Hoxby estimated that charters schools enrolled just slightly fewer special education students. She also noted that significantly fewer English-language learners enrolled in charters, a figure that Hoxby linked to the proportionately fewer Hispanic students in charter school populations. (Search through special education data comparing charter school students and district students.)

When the first iteration of the study was released two years ago, one of the biggest lingering questions was why charter schools spurred these gains. Hoxby said that her findings could not show any causal relationship between various charter school policies and practices, but a number of school characteristics seemed to be strongly associated with high achievement.

Longer school days and school years, some form of teacher merit pay and mission statements emphasizing academic achievement were all statistically linked to high student achievement.

Hoxby emphasized that there was no guarantee that those factors caused student achievement, or that they were replicable. But that doesn’t mean that other schools cannot take lessons from the charter schools’ success, she said.

“I don’t know if I took a traditional public school in Harlem, and I said to them, ‘you’re going to have a long school year and a long school day,–I don’t know that it would have the same effect,” Hoxby said. “But there’s no reason they shouldn’t try.”

The study presents quite detailed information on charter school demographics and programs; I’ve pulled out some of the more interesting sets of data and presented them below.

Demographics of charter school applicants, enrolled students and traditional public school students: The study found no statistically significant differences between students who received spots through the lotteries and those who did not, confirming that the lotteries are truly a random selection process, Hoxby said.

[table id=1 /]

Prior special program participation of charter school applicants and traditional public school students: Because charters and traditional public schools track special education, English-language learners and free- and reduced-lunch students differently, Hoxby examined students who were already enrolled in these programs when they applied for admission to a charter. Hoxby acknowledged that her sample cannot be truly representative of the charter school population, but said that given its limitations, her data still shed some light on students served by charter schools.

[table id=3 /]

Policies and characteristics of New York charter schools: Hoxby and her researchers found that certain elements of charter schools’ educational programs were statistically linked to gains in student achievement. Programs with longer school days and years, academic school missions and some form of teacher merit pay were found to have the strongest correlation to student achievement. Many elements, including types of math and reading curriculum, were not found to be linked statistically. Programs that reserved seats for parents on charter school boards were found to have a slightly negative correlation, though Hoxby cautioned that association may be more indicative of other management problems.

[table id=4 /]

The full report is below, and can be downloaded alongside the original 2007 report here.

How NYC Charter Schools Affect Achievement Sept2009

Newark Enrolls

After changes and challenges, Friday’s deadline to enroll in Newark schools finally arrives

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
A student fills out an information sheet at Central High School's booth at the citywide school fair in December.

Newark families have just a few hours left to apply to more than 70 public schools for next fall.

At noon on Friday, the online portal that allows families to apply to most traditional and charter school will close. After that, they will have to visit the district’s enrollment center. Last year, nearly 13,000 applications were submitted.

The stakes — and stress — are greatest for students entering high school. Each year, hundreds of eighth-graders compete for spots at the city’s selective “magnet” high schools, which many students consider their best options.

This year, those eighth-graders have to jump through an extra hoop — a new admissions test the magnets will use as they rank applicants. District students will sit for the test Friday, while students in charter and private schools will take it Saturday.

That’s news to many parents, including Marie Rosario, whose son, Tamir, is an eighth-grader at Park Elementary School in the North Ward.

“I don’t know nothing about it,” she said. District officials have been tight-lipped about what’s on the new test, how it will factor into admissions decisions, or even why introducing it was deemed necessary.

Students can apply to as many as eight schools. Tamir’s top choice was Science Park, one of the most sought-after magnet schools. Last year, just 29 percent of eighth-graders who ranked it first on their applications got seats.

“I’m going to cross my fingers,” Rosario said.

Students will find out in April where they were matched. Last year, 84 percent of families applying to kindergarten got their first choice. Applicants for ninth grade were less fortunate: Only 41 percent of them got their top choice, the result of so many students vying for magnet schools.

This is the sixth year that families have used the online application system, called Newark Enrolls, to pick schools. Newark is one of the few cities in the country to use a single application for most charter and district schools. Still, several charter schools do not participate in the system, nor do the vocational high schools run by Essex County.

Today, surveys show that most families who use the enrollment system like it. However, its rollout was marred by technical glitches and suspicions that it was designed to funnel students into charter schools, which educate about one in three Newark students. Some charter critics hoped the district’s newly empowered school board would abolish the system. Instead, Superintendent Roger León convinced the board to keep it for now, arguing it simplifies the application process for families.

Managing that process has posed challenges for León, who began as schools chief in July.

First, he ousted but did not replace the district’s enrollment chief. Then, he clashed with charter school leaders over changes to Newark Enrolls, leading them to accelerate planning for an alternative system, although that never materialized. Next, the district fell behind schedule in printing an enrollment guidebook for families.

Later, the district announced the new magnet-school admissions test but then had to delay its rollout as León’s team worked to create the test from scratch with help from principals, raising questions from testing experts about its validity. Magnet school leaders, like families, have said they are in the dark about how heavily the new test will be weighted compared to the other criteria, including grades and state test scores, that magnet schools already use to rank applicants.

Meanwhile, León has repeatedly dropped hints about new “academies” opening inside the district’s traditional high schools in the fall to help those schools compete with the magnets. However, the district has yet to hold any formal informational sessions for families about the academies or provide details about them on the district website or in the enrollment guidebook. As a result, any such academies are unlikely to give the traditional schools much of an enrollment boost this year.

District spokeswoman Tracy Munford did not respond to a request Thursday to speak with an official about this year’s enrollment process.

Beyond those hiccups, the enrollment process has mostly gone according to plan. After activating the application website in December, the district held a well-attended school fair where families picked up school pamphlets and chatted with representatives. Individual elementary schools, such as Oliver Street School in the East Ward, have also invited high school principals to come and tell students about their offerings.

American History High School Principal Jason Denard said he made several outings to pitch his magnet school to prospective students. He also invited middle-school groups to tour his school, and ordered glossy school postcards. Now, along with students and families across the city, all he can do is wait.

“I’m excited to see the results of our recruitment efforts,” he said. “Not much else is in my control — but recruitment is.”


Jubilation, and some confusion, as Denver schools begin their post-strike recovery

PHOTO: Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat
Lupe Lopez-Montoya greets students at Columbian Elementary School on Thursday after Denver's three-day teacher strike.

Lupe Lopez-Montoya got the text message at 6:15 a.m. The strike was over, the colleague who’d been keeping her up to speed on news from her union told her.

And so as district and teachers union officials celebrated their deal at the Denver Public Library, Lopez-Montoya on Thursday resurrected her regular commute to Columbia Elementary School, the northwest Denver school where she’s the longest-serving tenured teacher.

For the past three days, Lopez-Montoya had stayed out of school as Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association sparred over how teachers in Denver are paid. She still had unanswered questions about the future. But first, it was time to greet students.

One girl ran across the sidewalk to give a hug. “Ms. Montoya’s back,” she shouted, burying her face in the teacher’s side.

Lopez-Montoya began to welcome students into the building. “Line up and you can go get breakfast,” she told one boy. “I’m happy you’re here today.”

The moment kicked off what was a not-quite-normal day in Denver schools. With a deal coming just an hour before some schools were due to start for the day, teachers and families had little time to adjust their plans. The district also had too little time to reopen early childhood classes that have been closed all week; those will reopen on Friday, officials said.

Building principals got an email around 7 a.m. telling them that the strike was over and that many teachers would be coming back to work. In some buildings, central office staff and substitutes who had been filling in for teachers were already on site when teachers returned to work. And some students who commute long distances didn’t get the word in time to go to schools.

By early afternoon, about 81 percent of teachers in district-run schools had shown up to work, and about 83 percent of students had, according to Denver school district spokesman Will Jones.

In the parking lot outside Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, a west Denver elementary school, teachers still clad in the red of their cause gathered in the parking lot to walk in together. Asked what the mood was, reading intervention teacher Denise Saiz said, “Relief!” and her colleagues responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

“We’re really excited to get back to the kids,” said fifth grade teacher Emily Mimovich.

While strike participation was high at the school — it was founded with support from the state and local union as a teacher-led school — the teachers said they did not believe there would be hard feelings between those who walked and those who didn’t.

“We have such a good relationship,” said Reyes Navarro, who teaches Spanish to kindergarten and first-grade students. “We understand that you have to do whatever is right for you.”

Parents also said they were eager to have their children get back to school.

Sarah Murphy, who has a third-grader and a 4-year-old preschool student, said this morning was a “bit of a scramble, albeit a welcome one.” She had both children signed up for a day camp at the University of Denver and was unsure if she should send them to school or to camp because she wasn’t sure teachers would be back at school. Then she got word that camp was canceled for both children — but Denver Public Schools preschools are still closed.

“We were left trying to figure out what to do with our ECE4 since they were still closed,” she wrote to Chalkbeat. “We know how hard this has been on everyone, but this morning proved that the ECE program was the hardest hit, short notice every step of the way. We very much look forward to tomorrow when both are back in their normal school routines.”

Not everyone returned to school. Some teachers said they needed a day to collect themselves after an emotional experience. Judy Kelley, a visual arts teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, said she and many of her colleagues live too far away from the school to get there on short notice.

But the majority of teachers who went back to work Thursday describe positive experiences returning to their schools. Ryan Marini, a social studies teacher and football coach at South High School, called it the “best day” in 17 years of teaching.

Suzanne Hernandez, a first-grade teacher at Westerly Creek Elementary in Stapleton, said she and other teachers gathered to walk into school together at 7:45 a.m.

Teachers thanked the subs from central office who were in the building. They headed back to their roles in central offices.

Early in the morning, Hernandez sent a message to her students’ parents to let them know teachers would be back in school. The reaction from students as she greeted them was “overwhelming,” she said.

With the help of paraprofessionals who had prepared lessons, Hernandez said teachers were able to jump right back to where they left off last week.

As far as Valentine’s Day, that celebration will be pushed back until Friday afternoon, she said. For now, teachers are having their own celebration, happy to be back in the classroom.

“I think if there’s any sort of effect from the strike, it’s been a positive one,” she said. “It’s been a very unifying experience.”

Allison Hicks, a teacher at Colfax Elementary, said returning teachers were greeted with hugs, music, smiles and tears.

“After finding out an hour ago we were going back to work, I scrambled home to get ready,” she wrote to Chalkbeat. “I am exhausted, but so excited to be back with my students. This day won’t be normal, but knowing I did my part to put my students first is the best feeling to have.”

Kade Orlandini, who teaches at John F. Kennedy High School, said most of the teachers are back in her building, despite the short notice.

“Teachers were ready, and we are jumping right back into instruction,” she wrote. “Attendance seems lower than normal, but students who are here are ready to learn. The atmosphere in the school is very positive all around.”

What was your experience going back to school? What other questions do you have? Take our survey

Chalkbeat’s Ann Schimke, Erica Meltzer, and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting to this article.