December 13, 2017

Mark Weber, (908) 358-5828,
Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Dual reports on Newark-Zuckerberg reforms inconclusive, claims not supported by evidence

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Dec. 13, 2017) — In 2010, in partnership with private philanthropy, Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook backed major school 'reforms' in Newark, New Jersey schools. Earlier this fall, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which produces non-peer reviewed working papers, and the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University released two complementary reports that sought to offer a comprehensive review of the impact of Zuckerberg's donation to Newark. An academic review of the two reports released today finds little evidence to support Zuckerberg-funded reforms.

Mark Weber, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at Rutgers University, and Bruce D. Baker, a professor of education finance and the economics of education at Rutgers University, reviewed the two reports for the Think Twice think tank review project. Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. NBER published School District Reform in Newark: Within- and Between-School Changes in Achievement Growth, while CEPR published Assessing the Impact of the Newark Education Reforms: The Role of Within-School Improvement vs. Between-School Shifts in Enrollment.

According to the reports, Zuckerberg's donation spurred reforms designed to increase student achievement. Together, the reports found no increase in student growth or 'value-added' in mathematics and only a nominal increase in English language arts (ELA). The reports claimed that the small gains were due in part to closing schools or students moving from less productive schools to more productive charter schools.

However, in their review Weber and Baker call into question any causal inferences. Put simply, the two reports failed to support their claims with sufficient evidence, which greatly diminishes the value of the reports for shaping policies in Newark or elsewhere.

More specifically, Weber and Baker find the following problems:

  1. The reports do not clearly define the treatment in question.
  2. The reports omit important factors that affect student learning and test score outcomes.
  3. The reports utilize crude data, supported by isolated, small effect sizes.

Weber and Baker, both long-time observers and researchers of New Jersey education policy, conclude that the two reports fail to sufficiently take into account the full complexity of Newark's education context.

An appendix that addresses other changes impacting Newark's schools between 1998 and 2010 accompanies the think tank review.

Find the review and appendix on the GLC website:

Find links to the two reports on the web at:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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