As I pointed out at the time, however, Christie sends his own sons to the Delbarton School, which spends upwards of $30,000 per pupil; Camden, according to state records, spends about $22,000. Wouldn't it be nice if every Camden parent could send their sons and daughters to schools with small class sizes, and watch their children play sports on beautiful fields, just like Delbarton?Christie, the father of four school-age children, expressed what he described as an obligation to get involved in the Camden district at a press conference today at Woodrow Wilson High School."I don't want anything worse for the children of this city or any other city in the state of New Jersey than I would want for my own children," he said. [emphasis mine]
Chris Christie: Just another dad watching his kid play sports at school.
Yesterday, Christie recklessly appointed a 32-year-old with six years of education experience to run Camden's schools: Paymon Rouhanifard. What is it about this young man -- who has no experience running a school or a district and would certainly be an unacceptable leader for more affluent districts -- that Christie finds so compelling?
Perhaps one thing is that, like Christie, Rouhanifard says he wants the same type of education for the children of Camden that he himself enjoyed:
That is certainly a compelling and moving personal story. It is also incomplete, because, just like the Christie children, Rouhanifard enjoyed the benefits of a well-resourced private school education:
The idea of creating a community was critical to Paymon Rouhanifard’s (’99) success as a teacher.
Paymon transferred to MBA at the beginning of his sophomore year. He attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as the Senior Class President and received the University Chancellor’s Award, given annually to one senior male and female student for demonstrating outstanding char- acter, leadership, and honor. He graduated with a B.A. in Economics and Political Science.
The idea of improving communities through education is very important to Paymon. He is also grateful for the MBA community. “I think MBA was really the first step for me to set higher expectations for myself. Where I was coming from before, I was kind of a middle of the road student and never really thought big picture about what I wanted to do with my life. I think MBA not only instilled ambition into me, but taught me about public service, taught me about discipline, and how to achieve your goals in addition to setting them.”This is from an alumni magazine published by Montgomery Bell Academy, an elite all-boys prep school in Nashville, Tennessee. Some relevant statistics [emphasis mine]:
Perhaps the new state superintendent will start a rifle team in Camden's schools.
- Student body of 720 in grades 7-12
- MBA consistently does well in producing National Merit Scholars, with 21 Semifinalists and 17 Commended Scholars from the Class of 2013
- In 2010-2011, MBA featured 13 National Advanced Placement Scholars and 43 Advanced Placement Scholars of Distinction
- Entering students represent 34 different public and private schools
- The student-teacher ratio is 7:1, with an average class size of 14
- 23% of the student body receive more than $1.75 million in need-based financial aid
- Students took 526 AP Exams in 2012
- Average SAT scores were 200 points higher than the national average
- 100% of our student body is college-bound
- 25 AP classes and examinations offered
- National and regional awards in studio art
- 67% of faculty hold advanced degrees, including 15 doctorates
- MBA enjoys one of the top debate programs in the country. In 2005, MBA became the only school in the history of policy debate to win both first and second place at the national championship tournament. MBA debaters compete nationally and have won three national championships. MBA also hosts the prestigious Southern Bell Forum, the premier invitational competition in high school debate, on campus each January.
- Active community service is key to the MBA experience. Through the Service Club, the boys support such worthwhile causes as soup kitchen, peer tutoring, Backfield in Motion, Time to Rise, Hispanic Achievers Tutoring, Preston Taylor Homes Tutoring, and the Burundi Refugee Tutoring program
- The library houses a state-of-the-art digital language lab
- There are nine fully endowed faculty chairs: English, Science, Math, Fine Arts, History, Junior School, Interns, Leadership, and Humanities
- The school maintains foreign exchange programs with schools in Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, China, Singapore, and Colombia
- The 150+ acre campus on Long Mountain near McMinnville, TN, has an observatory operable remotely from the Nashville campus
- The Honor Code is an integral part of life at MBA, promoting a strong sense of mutual trust and respect among all members of the MBA community.
- Named as one of the top 50 theater programs in the nation by the American High School Theater Festival
- More boys in Nashville Youth Symphony than any other school in Nashville
- Field space exclusively for Junior School athletes on 42nd Avenue in Sylvan Park
- MBA Junior School won the HVAC Inman All-Sports Trophy consecutively from 2005 through 2011
- 14 varsity sports with state championships in basketball, baseball, cross country, football, lacrosse, rifle, swimming, tennis, and track
According to tax documents obtained through Guidestar, MBA (I swear, that's what they call it) has "functional expenses" of just under $29 million. That would put its per pupil costs at around $40,000 a year.
I want to be very clear about this: there is nothing wrong with sending your child to or attending an elite prep school that has high per pupil spending. (Full confession: I went to a mix of private, parochial, and public schools throughout my K-12 career; we moved around a lot). I think it shows great character on the part of Rouhanifard's parents that they raised a son who was able to excel in his studies and attend such an elite institution. Perhaps he received financial aid to attend; but even if he didn't, Rouhanifard was clearly an academically gifted young man. I would not for a second diminish his early successes, nor would I say that his attendance at MBA necessarily disqualifies him to run a public school system.
No, my problem -- once again -- is with the massive hypocrisy of Chris Christie. This is a man who refused to follow the law and fund New Jersey's poorest districts as is required by both court decree and the state constitution. This is a man who has let the infrastructure in the state's poorest districts literally crumble. This is a man who says over and over again that we spend too much money on education, and who blames that spending on middle class teachers. And still he sends his own children to private schools that spend a fortune compared to the state's public schools.
But the governor does not only engage in personal hypocrisy on this issue: Christie has selected an uncertified and barely experienced superintendent on the basis of Rouhanifard's "personal story," yet that story includes attending a school that spends nearly twice as much per pupil as the public schools in Camden.*
We will have to wait and see what Mr. Rouhanifard has to say about this. My hope is that he will demand that Governor Christie change his policies on school funding, because as both Rouhanifard and Christie know -- from their personal experiences -- money does matter in education. My hope is that, at Mr. Rouhanifard's insistence, children in Camden will not have to attend charters or private schools to enjoy the benefits of a well-paid staff, excellent facilities, the latest technology, a deep curriculum that includes the arts, and many extra-curriculars including an extensive athletics program.
We'll have to wait and see if my hopes match Mr. Rouhanifard's actions.
Chris Christie: "Paymon has a proven track record..."
* I'm not even adjusting for regional cost differences. The Census Bureau says Nashville-Davidson County spends $9,800 per pupil, which means MBA is spending more than four times as much as its neighboring public schools.
Can you imagine the Camden schools if they quadrupled their spending per pupil?
UPDATE: Just for future reference: MBA's Headmaster makes $541,826 a year; that includes housing. No cap there...
UPDATE 2: Bruce Baker has a brand new post on Tennessee, including the gap between public and private school funding:
But don't take Bruce's word for it: ask the new superintendent of the poorest city in America...All that aside, what do we know about the great state of Tennessee?
- Tennessee is persistently among the lowest spending states in the country on its public education system.
- Tennessee is not only one of the lowest spenders, but Tennessee spends less as a share of gross state product than most other states.
- Tennessee has one of the largest income gaps between public school enrolled and private school enrolled children, and has among the higher shares of private school enrolled children.
- Tennessee has relatively non-competitive teacher wages with respect to non-teacher wages. [emphasis mine]