Research Note: Resource Equity & Student Sorting Across Newark District & Charter Schools

Research Note: Resource Equity & Student Sorting Across Newark District & Charter Schools.

Bruce D. Baker

PDF: BBaker.NJCharters.2015

Executive Summary

In this brief, I present preliminary findings that are part of a larger, national analysis of newly released federal data, a primary objective of which is to evaluate the extent to which those data yield findings consistent with findings arrived at using state level data sources. In this brief, I specifically explore variations in student characteristics and resources across schools in Newark, NJ.

I begin by reflecting on my most recent policy brief on charter and district school performance outcomes – growth percentile data from 2012 and 2013 – noting that on average, Newark Charter schools remain relatively average in student achievement gains given their student populations. But as noted on previous occasions, Newark Charter school student populations are anything but average.

Next, I use longitudinal data from the NCES Common Core of Data, public school universe (the source of underlying demographic data for the newly released federal data) characterizing changes in Newark Charter market share (share of children served in Charter Schools) and the share of low income children served in Newark Charter schools.

Next, I explore what the newly released (albeit already dated) federal data say about Newark Charter school demographics, compared to district schools serving similar grade distributions.

Next, I explore resource distributions and teacher characteristics across Newark schools, charter and district. The question at hand here is whether across district and charter schools, those schools serving needier and more costly student populations also have more (or fewer) resources with which to serve those children. Further, whether among schools serving similar student populations, resource levels are similar.

Forthcoming analyses of charter schools in New York City found that those schools tended to serve less needy populations (than district schools) and were able to do so with substantially more resources that district schools serving similar populations. Because the share of children in the district served by charters remained small, their disruptive effect on equity remained small. By contrast, in Houston, charter schools both served more comparable student populations, and did so, on average, with more comparable resource levels, resulting in less disruption of equity. In each case, the more interesting story, however, was the extent of variation among charter schools, both in students served and in resource levels.

Here, I explore similar questions in the City of Newark, first with the newly released Federal data and then with the most recent four years of available state data (2010 to 2014).

Conclusions & Policy Implications

To summarize:

  • Recently released federal data, confirmed by more recent state data indicates that student population differences between Newark district and charter schools persist.
    • Newark charter schools continue to serve smaller shares of children qualified for free lunch, children with limited English language proficiency and children with disabilities, than do district schools serving similar grade ranges.
    • While charter school market share has remained relatively small (through 2013), the effect of charters underserving lower income students on district school enrollments has remained relatively modest.
  • Charter school total staffing expenditures, either as reported in federal data or as compiled from state data appear to fall in line with student needs in charter schools.
    • Charter schools serve less needy populations and do so with relatively low total salary expense per pupil.
    • But, there exists significant variation in resources among charter schools, with some outspending otherwise similar district schools and others significantly underspending otherwise similar district schools.
  • Charter school wage competitiveness varies widely, with some charters paying substantially more than district schools for teachers of specific experience and degree levels. But these wages do not, as of yet, substantially influence total staffing costs.
  • Charter schools have very high concentrations of 1st and 2nd year teachers, which lowers their total staffing expenditure per pupil but only to the point where those staffing expenditures are in line with expectations (not lower, as one might expect for schools with so many novice teachers).

Finally, comparisons between the newly released Federal data collection and updated state data sources appear both relatively stable over time and relatively consistent across sources even as the charter sector rapidly grows and evolves and as the district continuously morphs.

Two issues require consideration by policymakers and local officials if reliance on charter schooling and expansion of charter schooling are to play a significant role in the future of schooling in Newark. The first is the active management of the potential deleterious effects of student sorting on district schools – that is, as market share increases and the tendency remains for charters to enroll (or keep) fewer of the lowest income children, district schools may be more adversely affected.

An appropriately designed centralized enrollment system can partially mitigate these issues. But (at least) two factors can offset the potential benefits of such a system. First, individual choices of differently motivated and differently informed parents influence who signs up to attend what schools, leading to uneven distribution of initial selections. Second, centralized enrollment affects only how students are sorted on entry, but does not control who stays or leaves a given school.

Perhaps more importantly, however, it may be the case that some charter schools are simply not cut out to best serve some students (as with the district’s own Magnet schools). It would likely be a bad policy choice to create a centralized enrollment system that requires schools to serve children they are ill-equipped to serve.

The second issue requiring consideration is whether the staffing and expenditure structure of charter schools is sustainable and/or efficient. As I’ve shown in my previous report, charter schools are a relative break-even on state achievement growth outcomes, given their resource levels and student characteristics.[1] But, the current staffing expenditure levels (which are merely average, not low) of charters in Newark depend on maintaining a very inexperienced workforce. Again, current novice teacher concentrations may be a function of recent enrollment growth.

As growth slows, these schools will either have to a) shed more experienced teachers to maintain their low-expense staff, b) lower their wages, potentially compromising quality of recruits, c) reduce staffing ratios, potentially compromising program quality or d) increase their spending levels. If charter operators choose “a” above – relying on high attrition, it remains questionable whether the supply of new teachers, even from alternative pathways, would be sufficient to maintain the present model at much larger scale.