Doing the Math in Camden

Today the Courier-Post examines the dipping graduation rates in Camden City’s five public high schools, where “at least 100 fewer seniors graduated…June 30 than last year, and it’s not clear if all students who walked in ceremonies have earned their diplomas."

Actually, it’s hard to say exactly what’s happening, besides the obvious: the students who can’t pass the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) now take the more-carefully-proctored Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA), which is harder to pass than the recently-deceased Special Review Assessment (SRA), which was, in fact, impossible to fail. (Stay with us here.) So even though students who can’t pass the 8th-grade-level HSPA can take the AHSA three times, captivity in a chronically failing district yields chronically failing students.

According to the article, in 2009 (the SRA’s last year) 551 seniors got diplomas among the five schools. This year only 451 did. When a Camden City School Board member queried Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young about particulars, “none were provided.”

Here’s a few particulars. The latest DOE data is for the school year 2008-2009. The total number of freshman in all five Camden City high schools in 2004 was 826: 391 at Camden High, 300 at Woodrow Wilson, 66 at Brimm Medical Arts, 41 at Creative & Performing Arts, and 28 at Met East. The total number of seniors in all Camden City high schools in 2008 was 537: 212 at Camden High, 200 at Woodrow Wilson, 64 at Brimm, 34 at Creative & Performing Arts, and 27 at Met East. In other words, there are 35% fewer kids in the senior class than in the freshman class.

How exactly do we calculate drop-out rates?

If we look at just the two general ed high schools – Camden City and Woodrow Wilson – the freshman class had 691 students, but four years later enrollment had dropped to 412 students. That’s a gap of 41% in enrollment. And that’s before they take the AHSA.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Cherry Hill, also in Camden County. At Cherry Hill High East, there were 490 kids in the freshman class in 2008-2009 and 343 kids at Cherry Hill West. Seniors numbered 552 at Cherry Hill East and 379 at Cherry Hill West. So the senior class at both Cherry Hill high schools is 112% of the freshman class the same year.

Another point of comparison: total comparative cost per pupil at Cherry Hill's high schools is $12,914. In Camden it's $16,131.

Eureka! All those missing Camden high school students (District Factor Group of A, the lowest possible socio-economic ranking) moved to Cherry Hill (DFG I, the second highest socio-economic ranking). The fundamentals of our economy are strong.

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