By Laura Waters for NJ Left Behind,

“Contrary to what you may hear in the national narrative, there is a lot of public support for the historic progress Newark has made. Newark voters are still looking for more quality school options, and they broadly support public charter schools as part of the solution. We should trust the opinions of the people living in our communities and experiencing our school system every day over the opinions of national pundits.”

That’s Kyle Rosenkrans, Executive Director of  the New Jersey Children’s Foundation (NJCF), commenting on the results of an online poll looking at Newark residents’ views of their public schools. This poll is a follow-up to an analysis issued last spring that studied Newark students’ academic growth since the expansion of charter schools,  which now enroll about 35% of students in the state’s largest school district. Contrary to premonitions of district fiscal and academic dissolution by charter opponents like Education Law Center, NJEA,  Bruce Baker, and Mark Weber, analysts Jesse Margolis and Eli Groves found that from 2006-2018 students in both charter schools and district schools achieved meaningful gains in proficiency and high school graduation. The tide didn’t lift all boats but it lifted most of them.

NJCF has just issued the results of  this companion poll which explored Newark residents’ views on the current state of their public schools, both charter and traditional.  The bottom line is that the majority of Newarkers believe that the changes in the district deliver “a better quality school system for students…and recognize they have been beneficial to families.” (See here for a summary.)

Here are some of the highlights from the poll:

  • Newarkers want more quality school options. Nearly 90% of Newark voters agree (with two-thirds of all voters in strong agreement) that families should have even more quality school options, including public charter schools.
  • Newarkers strongly support public charter schools. 63% of voters see public charter schools as an important part of the city’s public school landscape. Support for public charter schools is fueled by families, demonstrated by the positive responses of 68% of women, 68% of African American voters and 68% of voters with a child or children enrolled in grades K-12.
  • Newarkers strongly support universal enrollment. 87% of voters believe parents should be able to choose the best public school for their children in the same enrollment system, including public charter schools.
  • Newarkers believe their public schools are improving. 38% of voters feel that there are more quality schools available to families in 2019, compared with just 21% who believe there are fewer. This support is felt most strongly among 18-34 year old voters, who are most likely to have experienced Newark’s school improvement firsthand, and African-American voters.
  • Three issues stand out as top-tier concerns for Newarkers: lack of funding (46%), school performance (“Poor performance” at 39% and “Not enough great schools” at 33%), and school safety (36%).

Here are a few other things that jump out at me:

  • Most Newark residents don’t yet have an opinion of new Superintendent Roger Leon but those who have an opinion support him by a ratio of 2:1.
  • Newarkers have mixed feelings about the new teacher contract (see my commentary here), which eliminates merit pay: 51% like it; 49% either don’t like it or aren’t sure how they feel about it.
  • A “strong majority” of Newarkers believe that charter schools should have access to under-used district facilities. Only 36% oppose this.
  • There is a “perception gap” regarding Newarkers’ views of their children’s academic proficiency. While just 29% of Newark students are on grade-level in reading and math, 79% of parents think their children are either at or above grade-level.79% of Newarkers believe that the district magnet schools are segregated and should enroll  students who reflect the city’s demographics. (Ex: 8.4% of Newark district students are white but at Science Park High School 17.4% are white.)