In Early Lessons from Newark’s Experience with Charter Schools, commissioned by Startup:Education, a Public Impact team led by Juli Kim considers the issues and lessons from a school district where the charter sector has grown so large that its effects on traditional schools are impossible to overlook. The Newark school district, long under control of the state of New Jersey, faces challenges driven in part by strong parent demand for high-performing schools and the rapid growth of a high-performing charter sector: The sector currently serves 27 percent of Newark’s students and is anticipated to serve 40 percent by 2018–19. According to one study, Newark has the second-highest performing charter sector among the nation’s cities. What could other cities and districts with a growing charter presence learn from Newark’s journey?
The district made national news in 2010 when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave Newark a $100 million challenge grant, matched by an equal amount of local and national philanthropy.
Under a state-appointed superintendent, the district pursued a wide-ranging reform agenda, including a major new teacher contract and evaluation system intended to retain and reward the district’s effective teachers and remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
The district also identified and responded vigorously to a number of concerns that the growing charter sector raised. Those included the location of charter facilities; the concern that charter schools were not serving their “fair share” of high-need students; and the impact of charters on the district’s budget and teacher quality because of state-imposed constraints on the district’s ability to dismiss ineffective teachers. The district’s response, which included a common enrollment system, a common performance measurement system, and “charter launches” in low-performing district facilities, has generated both progress and controversy.