Newark Students See Modest Gains From Mark Zuckerberg’s $100M Gift

Learning Research

Newark Students See Modest Gains From Mark Zuckerberg’s $100M Gift

Oct 17, 2017

“Everyone’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.” That was one of the most memorable and scathing quotes in “The Prize,” Dale Russakoff’s investigation into how the $200 million given to Newark Public Schools by Mark Zuckerberg and other donors in 2010 was spent. The general impression, at the time of the book’s release in 2015, was: not very well.

Yet a study (PDF), funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and led by Harvard and Dartmouth researchers, found statistically significant gains in Newark student’s English achievement—but not in math.

Based on data on all New Jersey public school students in grades 4-8 during 2009-2016, the researchers found that average student growth in Newark, based on the state’s NJASK and PARCC assessments, “improved significantly relative to the rest of the state in English and was not significantly changed in math” by 2016.

That growth was not linear. In fact, in the first couple of years, average math and English achievement growth saw “substantial declines” before rebounding in 2014-2015 school year.

Researchers attributed gains to closing low-performing schools and steering parents and their children towards higher-performing ones. They write: “shifting enrollment from lower-to higher-growth district and charter schools...accounted for 62 percent of the improvement in English.” Math achievement scores would have declined were it not for these enrollment shifts, they add.

The findings might suggest that closing low-performing schools and letting families go to better ones is the solution. But the authors warn against drawing that simplistic conclusion. “Closing schools is politically difficult,” the report acknowledges, requiring some students to move involuntarily. Thomas Kane, one of the authors, told USA Today that “school districts should think twice before deciding, “All we have to do is introduce a school choice plan and we’ll get similar results.”

Disclosure: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has provided financial support to EdSurge


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