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Apr 28, 2016

Newark Charter School Fund Outlines 4 Areas to Lift City’s Education

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Perhaps the most important measure of a great city is the way it prepares its children for the future through education. Over the last few decades in Newark's history, efforts to strengthen the public school system have been difficult, and at times contentious.

But recent years have seen demonstrable changes in the status quo. As the Newark Charter School Fund looks back over the first two phases of its impact and prepares for leadership transition, we set out to understand what has worked, and what will work for the future, as we continue to focus our attention on making sure all of Newark's students are getting the education they need to get enrolled in college.

In a new report, "Better Options, Better Futures: Eight Years of the Newark Charter School Fund," the Fund proposes that the blueprint for success is founded on a commitment to doing what's best for students — not adults — and encompasses four main themes: quality growth of public school options, access and equity, collaboration, and advocacy.

The public charter school sector in Newark has grown tremendously since 2008, and now serves roughly one in three students in the city. The sector has worked hard to do so in a way that preserves and strengthens quality along the way.

There's clear evidence of this quality growth — despite quadrupling the number of students served since 2008, multiple studies have confirmed that Newark's public charter schools are succeeding on a national stage, including Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which ranked Newark's charter sector second in the nation out of 41 urban districts in both reading and math achievement impact.

A 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that more than 86 percent of Newark charter school students are enrolled in schools considered to be "beating the odds" in math, and 76 percent are enrolled in schools considered to be "beating the odds" in reading.

A strong education system serves all students well, including its highest need  student populations. On this front, Newark's charter sector has made solid strides. The percentage of students with special needs in Newark charter schools substantially increased from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2014. While there is still room for improvement, this upward trend has continued: about 15 percent of incoming ninth graders who were matched to a charter school for the 2015-2016 school year had special needs. The sector also serves a high percentage of children at or near poverty levels, with 82 percent of charter students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

As the sector continues to grow, the Fund must — and will — continue to ensure that the charter sector is striving to reach all students, so that high-need students are offered the same educational options as all other students.

Collaboration plays a critical role in assuring that the goals remain achievable. Through partnerships with families and other community stakeholders, the Newark public school system and city leadership, and other local partners, we can collectively strive towards system-wide equity, transparency and accountability. The partnership between Newark Public Schools and the charter sector to implement an innovative universal enrollment system has made it easier for parents to access the array of educational options in the city ­— just one example of the power of collaboration.

Yet collaboration always presents challenges, and chief among them is making sure that all stakeholders have a voice in the process. If Newark is to succeed in expanding access to a high-quality education for all students in the city, it will be through collaboration that prioritizes children's needs. Everyone involved in the process — from administrators and policymakers to educators, parents and even students — must unite across the district and charter sectors around a vision for education that prepares all students for college and a career.

That is why one of the most important lessons of all, is ensuring that parents are part of the conversation.

The families of Newark have the most at stake in the decisions that are being made, but city and charter leaders have not always sufficiently engaged them in the process. Continuing to strengthen parent engagement and parents' voice in advocating for quality schools will help make certain that they have options that will give their children an excellent education.

As we pursue greater levels of access to educational opportunity across Newark, we must prioritize quality growth, access and equity, collaboration, and effective advocacy. These are the keys to a future that is even brighter than our past. 

Read more at the Star-Ledger…

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