Newark Enrolls: A Principled Approach to Public School Choice

Newark Enrolls: A Principled Approach to Public School Choice,” written by Kimberly Austin, PhD, Lucero Batista, Mahua Bisht, Andrew Karas, Jesse Margolis, PhD, and Andy Sonnesyn examines the school enrollment system in Newark, New Jersey. The report was produced by CPRL aand MarGrady Research for the Newark Public Schools (NPS).

NPS, in partnership with most of the city’s charter schools, developed a universal enrollment system (Newark Enrolls) during the 2013-14 school year that went into operation the following year. With four enrollment cycles completed and over 36,000 students placed since then, the Newark community is now in a position to assess the impact of Newark Enrolls. In the report, CPRL and MarGrady Research use quantitative and qualitative data to examine enrollment patterns and practices under the universal enrollment system.

Newark, like a growing number of cities, adopted universal enrollment as a way to lessen the impact of resource and other inequalities on families’ ability to exercise school choice. Overall, the report’s findings suggest Newark Enrolls has achieved this goal. Following a well-defined set of principles and implementing a transparent set of citywide policies and practices, Newark Enrolls has increased school choice while respecting the importance of community. Families of high-needs students have greater access to high-demand schools, and schools have more reliable data about their incoming students. However, these achievements were not immediate. Many lessons were learned along the way, and there remains room for improvement as is spelled out in the report.

“The implementation of Newark Enrolls demonstrates how school districts that learn from experience and improve as they go can achieve real, positive change in education,” noted Kimberly Austin, engagement manager at CPRL. “Since its launch in 2013-14, the district and its partners in the charter sector have routinely reviewed and reflected on the impact of Newark Enrolls by using school placement data and by listening and responding to the needs and concerns of families, school leaders, and other members of the community.”

Key findings include:

  • Most students who apply through Newark Enrolls are matched to one of their top choices. 

  • Students who want to attend school in their neighborhood are able to do so. However, as Newark Enrolls has made it easier to apply to schools in other neighborhoods, more families have done so.
  • Special education students and those who are eligible for free lunch have greater access to schools that are in high-demand than before Newark Enrolls went into effect. This includes access to popular magnet and charter schools. 

  • NPS schools now receive more reliable information about student enrollment at the beginning of the year, and the number of “no shows” has declined. 

  • Since it launched, Newark Enrolls has made the application process easier and more transparent by making publicly available increasing amounts of useful information about schools and enrollment policies.         

“As districts across the country work to better integrate schools by income, special education status, and other factors, they can look to Newark as a model” said Jesse Margolis, managing partner at MarGrady Research. “By prioritizing high-needs students in an admissions system developed in partnership with the city’s charter sector, Newark has made substantial strides in improving access and equity in its public schools.” 

Recently, Newark Public Schools transitioned from state to local control. As the district transitions to complete local control, this report presents information about the impact of Newark Enrolls on school choice and enrollment trends in most of the city’s public schools. In doing so, the report highlights strengths in the implementation of Newark Enrolls and opportunities for continued improvement.