Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.
Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.
CREDO’s analysis measures how much a school helps a student grow over the course of a year. They do this by comparing students in the city to similar students across the state.
CREDO presents its findings in standard deviations. A useful way to understand these impacts is to translate them into extra days of learning, based on a 180 day school year.
As the chart above shows, a .15 standard deviation impact equates to about an extra half year of learning.
The results just came in Camden.
Camden Reform History
The state intervened in Camden schools in 2013. You can read more about the effort in this good New York Times piece.
One of the major innovations in the takeover was the creation and expansion of Renaissance schools. Renaissance schools are governed by non-profit organizations but must serve all students in the neighborhood. They are sort of a hybrid between charter schools and traditional schools.
The Renaissance reform effort was also coupled with improvements to traditional schools. Schools became safer and academic improvements were implemented across the city.
The city also created an online unified enrollment system to help families find the best public schools for their children.
Large Citywide Improvements
Camden’s city level effects are large.
In just two years, scores are up ~.15 standard deviations in math and ~.05 standard deviations in reading (compared to similar schools across the state).
To put this in context, over five years, New Orleans achieved a .4 standard deviation effect. These city effects were the largest the researchers had seen. Camden may achieve similar results. The math results are on track to mirror the gains seen in New Orleans.
It’s pretty incredible to see students learning so much more so quickly. Effects this large are a good signal that students are getting smarter in literacy and numeracy.
Renaissance and Traditional Schools are Improving the Fastest
Renaissance schools are the highest performing sector in Camden, outperforming similar schools across the state in both reading and math. They also improved by over +.1 standard deviations in both subjects over the last year of the study.
The Camden traditional sector, though lower-performing, has improved. District schools have seen large improvements in Math (+.2 standard deviations) and modest gains in reading (+.06 standard deviations).
The charter sector continues to outperform the district, though it has seen a decline in its learning gains relative to the state over the past few years
Will Learning Improvements Lead to Better Life Outcomes for Children?
In New Orleans, we began to worry that gains in test scores, while important, would not translate into better life outcomes for students. Unfortunately, There were not enough post-secondary programs in the city that could help high school graduates prepare for meaningful careers.
Many cities across the country also struggle with this issue.
Recently, the former superintendents of New Orleans and Camden announced they were launching a new organization, Propel, to help high school graduates transition to good careers.
This promising effort, if it works, will help students capitalize on their increased numeracy and literacy skills.
Mission Not Accomplished
The Camden reforms are barely past their fifth year. The city is still home to struggling schools. Absolute achievement remains low. And the district remains under state takeover.
Hopefully, over the next five years the city’s schools will return to local control and continue to improve. And all of the work will translate to better life outcomes for students.