The Courier-Post is in high dudgeon over managerial misdoings at Camden City Public Schools. According to the paper, Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young is defending charges of excessive teacher absenteeism by “saying to Camden parents not to worry about [it] because it might not be true; the district keeps poor records and can't verify that things are as bad as the story laid out.” On top of that, the district has a history, some predating Young’s tenure, of being unaccountable to tax payers, misusing state funds, and tolerating poor building security that puts students at risk.
Let’s look more closely at the state of Camden schools, specifically Camden High. Home rule be damned: State coffers fund 90% of school costs and every resident in NJ has an interest in whether the mostly impoverished kids in Camden are getting a fair educational shake. With an annual budget of about $360 million dollars for the city’s schools and a new high school construction project slated to cost $120 million for the 1500 kids at Camden High, what kind of academic experience are we paying for?
Camden High’s graduation rate is 49%. The state average is 92.8%. 23% of Camden High’s students can pass the HSPA, a middle-school level test required for graduation. The state average is 89.2%. Average attendance for Camden High’s 10th-graders is 69%. The state average is 93.8%. Camden High offers no Advanced Placement courses and the average SAT scores are 344 in math and 346 in verbal. Fewer than 20% of graduates go on to college. It’s hard to get exact numbers but cost per pupil is around $18,000 per year.
There are 1500 kids stuck in this hothouse for failure. A mile and a half away, however, sits Camden Academy Charter High School. The graduation rate is 100%. 68.7% pass the HSPA. Average attendance for 10th graders is 93%. There are 6 A.P. courses offered, although SAT scores are only 383 in math and 375 in verbal. 90% of Camden Academy’s graduates go to college. Annual cost per pupil is $12,501, which includes facilities upkeep because NJ doesn’t contribute to charter school buildings. There are hundreds of students on the waiting list.
How bad does it have to get for the State to shut down Camden High and let a reputable charter school operator take over? How long do those kids have to wait?