NJ State Board of Ed Flummoxed by Camden's 49% Graduation Rate

At last week’s meeting of the NJ State Board of Education, reports the Courier-Post, much attention was focused on the dismal high school graduation rate in Camden City. While NJ’s rate has increased by 3%, in Camden “the rate plummeted by 7 percent to 49.3, down from 56.9 percent last year. Camden now has the second lowest graduation rate in the state.” (Trenton’s rate is 48.44%.)

Also noted was the recent CREDO report on NJ’s charter schools. (See background here.) According to the analysis, kids in NJ charter schools did better than kids in traditional district schools – by 30% in reading and 40% in math, according to the Courier-Post – and Newark’s charter school kids did even better. However, in Camden charter school students saw no such gains.  From the Courier-Post:
Unasked — and unanswered — was the fundamental question: Why? What sets the city apart? Why do educational efforts that succeed elsewhere not work in Camden?
The failure of the state board to address this discrepancy angered David Sciarra, head of the Education Law Center, who said that this lack of curiosity “boggles the mind.” Instead, the state board appears to have gotten trapped in the hoary tautology of poverty and education. Poor kids in poverty-stricken districts tend to do poorly in school. So we have to fix poverty. But we can’t fix poverty without fixing education. And on and on in an otiose endless loop.

(The state board might want to take a look at a study just out from Princeton: “School Context and Educational Outcomes: Results from a Quasi-Experimental Study,” published in Urban Affairs Review this past August by Douglas S. Massey and Rebecca Casciano. The authors undertake a long-term statistical analysis of what happens when poor kids from Camden get the chance to live and go to school in a wealthier and high-functioning school district, in this case Mt. Laurel. See my column here in NJ Spotlight for details. Spoiler alert: the kids did great.)

So why can’t we seem to improve educational outcomes for kids in Camden, despite decades of Abbott funding and services? What’s special about the charters in Newark? (I asked that question here.) Is it the mind-numbing dysfunction of the Camden school board, which took weeks to approve a KIPP charter (one of the most successful operators in Newark)? Is there something different about the impoverishment of Camden that negates academic improvement?  Are there some sorts of poverty that produce the violence endemic to Camden and other sorts of poverty that don’t subject kids to daily horror shows?

Chime in.

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