What Happens When a Mediocre Charter Closes But Traditional Publics Stink?

The NJ DOE closed two charter schools in Trenton this summer – Trenton Community School and Capital Preparatory School – so now those kids must be assimilated into Trenton’s traditional public schools. The 269 kids formerly enrolled at Capital Prep are assigned to Trenton Central High. However, there’s no room for the 500 K-8 kids who attended Trenton Community in any of Trenton's traditional public elementary schools, so the district has reopened Jefferson School, which has been closed for more than a year, according to both the Trenton Times and the Trentonian.

From the Trenton Times:
Parents dropping their children off at Jefferson said they found squalid conditions and leaking roofs.
"There’s a big hole in the ceiling, and it’s leaking, constantly leaking,” said Tashika Phillips, whose daughter started first grade at the school yesterday. “They put a garbage can on the floor to collect the water, and there’s big stains on the carpet.”
She described mold growing on the walls and floors of the second-floor bathrooms.
“It’s very unsanitary; it’s just nasty,” she said. “It smells so bad when you go into that school.”
More than 250 parents showed up at the Trenton Board of Education building to protest unsanitary conditions. From The Trentonian:
“We’ve got kids throwing up over here. Some of them have asthma and they are finding it pretty hard to breathe with the smell in this building. We need an inspection of this place, it’s air quality, for mold, and for asbestos,” said Janice Williams, a Trenton Education Association Grievance representative.
Another parent complained, “She [my daughter] has asthma. No way that she’s staying in this building. The bathrooms are nasty. Toilets are dirty. We have stuff falling out of the ceiling. And there’s brown water coming out of some of the drinking faucets. It’s a mess.”

Of course, none of these conditions are helped by recent and new flooding in Central Jersey.

DOE officials closed Trenton Community School in mid-August because of low test scores. And they are low: according to DOE data, 60.9% of students failed the ASK3 in language arts and 50% failed the ASK3 in math. Among fourth-graders, 84.6% failed the ASK4 in language arts and 66.2% failed math.

Now that these kids are at Jefferson, what can they expect? Most recently at Jefferson (school year 2010) 88% failed the ASK3 in language arts and 80% failed the ASK3 in math. Among fourth-graders, 89.4% failed the ASK4 in language arts and 84.2% failed the ASK4 in math.

In other words, the charter school was closed for poor student performance. Now those kids are shuffled off to a traditional public school with a history of worse performance and a higher cost per pupil: $16,481 comparative cost per pupil at Jefferson and $13,401 at the charter.

It’s a hard call. The DOE had to make a political statement that it will hold charter schools to high standards; thus, the closing of Community School, in its 3d year as a School In Need of Improvement. But that leaves its youngsters consigned to a school with a history of poor performance (and also, when it closed, in its third year as a SINI). On top of that insult, the facilities seem uninhabitable.

Meanwhile, of course, students who live outside Trenton's city limits attend well-ventilated, successful public schools where the bathrooms are clean, the ceilings don't leak, breathing is easy, and 89% of fourth graders don't fail the state standardized test in language arts.

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