What’s Going on in Newark?

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I’ve written a bit about Newark: on reports glossing over of the exceptional performance of Newark’s charter schools; on the “lesson” of the Newark reform efforts; and on what we should make from the fact that families overwhelming rank the best charters highest in their enrollment preferences.

In all these posts, I try to navigate the complicated facts of excellent charter performance, high family demand, and voter preference for Mayor Baraka, who, to some extent ran on a platform against the Newark education reform efforts.

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Now we have an additional piece of information: Newark’s “Unity Slate,” which consisted of two charter supporters and one candidate backed by the mayor, just won seats onto the Newark school board – a board that may see schools returned back to it in the coming years.

Here are the vote counts:

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The two charter supporters placed first and second.

How to interpret this election?

You could interpret it as a truce: that the unity slate is a sign that political leaders want to wind down the education reform wars.

You could interpret it as a reversal: that Baraka’s power has ebbed and that the charter community’s power is on the rise.

You could interpret it as a signal: that in school board elections voters are willing to take their support of high-quality charter schools to the ballot box.

My guess is that all of these interpretations hold some truth.

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I recently wrote about a recent poll that showed that New Orleans voters support charter schools and unified enrollment systems.

In Newark, we have evidence that public school parents have a strong preference for high-performing charter schools, and that voters are electing school board candidates that support charter schools and choice.

This evidence of what local communities actually prefer seems pretty far removed from the national narratives on Newark and New Orleans.

Both these cities are extremely complicated. They have long histories of institutional racism and poverty. I don’t think that one poll, election, or set of test scores can tell the whole story.

But I do think we good evidence in both of these cities that charter schools are providing a better education, that families recognize this, and that voters support policies that continue the expansion of access to high-quality charter schools.

Now, we are seeing these preferences show up at the ballot box.

Time will tell if this is a blip or the emergence of longer-term voting trends.

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