NJEA Goes Off the Rails: PARCC, Pensions, and Camden School Choice

NJEA is on a roll. Just over the couple of months New Jersey’s primary teacher union leaders have mounted a $15 million  campaign (also see here) to urge parents to opt out of PARCC tests in order to sabotage new data-driven teacher evaluations, have decided to hold their breath until their faces turn blue instead of collaborating with Christie’s Pension Reform Commission to find meaningful ways to preserve retirement benefits, pushed for legislation to shut down all charter school expansion, and  filed a complaint with the state against Camden City Schools’ lawful strategy to improve student outcomes in N.J.’s worst school district.

One hardly knows where to begin, but let’s look at the last piece. Here’s NJEA’s press release:
NJEA attorneys today filed a motion imploring State Education Commissioner David Hespe to rescind his approval of the corporate takeover of four public schools in Camden and reopening them this fall as Renaissance Schools. 
NJEA believes that the closures of Bonsall Elementary School, Molina Elementary School, McGraw Elementary School, and East Camden Middle School violate the Urban Hope Act and the state’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver.  Under the Urban Hope Act, Renaissance Schools may only open in newly constructed buildings or substantially renovated facilities.
In filing that motion, NJEA leaders -- along with Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center, which have filed their own complaints --  take the unethical, child-unfriendly position that  Camden’s worst schools – Henry L. Bonsall Elementary School, East Camden Middle School,  Francis X. McGraw Elementary School, Rafael Cordero Molino Elementary School, and J.G. Whittier Family School – should  continue to operate "as is" despite decades of academic failure. N.J.'s Urban Hope Act permits Camden, Trenton, and Newark (only Camden has taken this opportunity) to convert some of their worst-performing schools to renaissance turnaround schools,  hybrids of districts and charters, contingent upon approval by local school boards.. They accept all children in the neighborhood, although families can choose to have their children attend instead a nearby traditional district school. (For more on the differences between regular charters and renaissance charters, see here.)

But NJEA says "no" because of a technicality: the renaissance schools will temporarily take space in either empty or near-empty school buildings so that children don't have to bide their time for another year and wait for renovation and construction. The union thus poises itself on on the morally untenable cliff of relegating children and families to drop-out factories.

Coincidentally, this week Camden City Public Schools released its first set of School Information Cards. From a district press release:
The final version of the cards reflects what information the community values most in their schools:  great teaching, academic rigor, and a strong foundation for success in career or college. Through school visit and School Community Survey results, the cards include up-to-date information on student achievement, school environment, and parent satisfaction. The cards also include demographic, enrollment, and contact information. Great schools are the result of many factors coming together—not one silver bullet—so the School Information Cards include a variety of figures about each school.
So let’s look at  Bonsall Elementary School's School Information Card (page 10 of the English version) which will become Uncommon Camden Prep for all K-4th graders who currently attend Bonsall (page 5) as long as NJEA doesn't get its way. The School Information Cards place Camden schools into one of four categories: On Track, Making Progress, Needs Improvement,  and Under Performing. Bonsall is in the last category. From the Card:

Find me one NJEA leader who would send his or her child to this school. Coming up empty, right? Other people's kids.

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