Courier-Post Presents Editorial as Journalism Re: Camden School Lay-offs

No one likes to lay off teachers: neither parents, students, administrators, board members. While an article in the Courier Post ably captures everyone’s dismay, it reads more like an editorial than journalism, bemoaning the lay-offs of two dance teachers at Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy in Camden, a priority school because it’s one of the lowest performing schools in the state.

Ninety percent of its 8th grade students, for example, fail state basic proficiency tests in math. Not a single student scores higher than 1550 on his or her SAT’s, a benchmark for college and career-readiness.

Not surprisingly, then, parents are voting with their feet and enrollment is dipping. According to N.J. Department of Education data, Creative Arts enrolled 488 students in 2011-2012 but only 339 students in 2013-2014.  With student to faculty ratios of 7:1, teachers must be laid off. Hence, over the last two years, two dance teachers, who happen to be married, were let go. Camden spokesman Brendan Lowe explains to the Courier-Post that “with roughly 60 dance students at the school, the district was unable to justify having more than one instructor and that the dance program will continue.”

The article goes on to condemn the district for heartlessly laying off unnecessary staff in a district that currently spends about $27,000 per year per student.  A recent dance performance was “fraught with emotion.” A students “wept,” with “tears streaming down his face.” (Is there a different way to weep?) A laid-off teacher “has no idea where his next job will be.”   The remaining dance teacher (with a total teaching load of 60 students), asks, “How do you justify reduction?” she said. “We didn’t reduce the children.” (Actually, you did.)

This isn’t journalism. This is demagoguery. The Courier-Post should know better.

Follow-up:  in the Courier Post's  article/editorial, one of the two dance teachers laid off at Camden’s Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy insists that he may have been let go because "he refused to sign a petition urging that Creative Arts become a charter school and was outspoken in his opposition to the conversion; the school applied for charter status last year and was denied by the state Department of Education this spring.”

Any education writer knows better. Teachers know better too. New Jersey public school administrators have absolutely no lattitude in laying off teachers; lay-offs are based on seniority, not classroom effectiveness, and certainly not politics.

The teacher’s paranoia may be a product of his membership in Save Our Schools-NJ. He displays the anti-reform lobbyists’ emblem front and center on his Facebook page. Anyway, Creative Arts’ application to convert to a charter school was denied by the D.O.E. because, wrote Ed. Comm. David Hespe, the documentation "was poorly written and did not demonstrate the founders have the organizational capacity to convert from a functioning public school."