The past seven months have been an incredible and even historic moment for all of Camden's kids. The success we have seen has helped to confront decades of stagnation. New schools in Camden are teaching five-year-olds how to read and fifth graders all about fractions. In this short amount of time, new renaissance schools have begun transforming the lives of young students and their families as they create a pathway to college. In fact, because of this progress and these new opportunities, the Camden Superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, announced last week that the school district is partnering with renaissance schools on five new transformations of traditional public schools.
"Success"?! What "success"? What is the reliably reformy Janellen Duffy saying: that not even one year into the Renaissance Schools experiment, we can claim they are a "success"?Instead of celebrating these new opportunities for Camden families, groups like Save Our Schools, the Education Law Center (ELC) and other bloggers and commentators continue to defend the status quo, the same status quo that has failed Camden families for generations. Rather than join the conversation to create further improvement, these groups continue to attack success. Save Our Schools, the ELC and others have been arguing that the renaissance schools are not serving the students with the greatest needs and attempting to discredit the success of these renaissance schools with these arguments. [emphasis mine]
Look, no one rational would ever claim the Renaissance charters in Camden are "failures" in terms of their academic achievements without first giving them time to prove what they can do. Who, then, would ever claim they are a "success" when they haven't even finished their first year? It's just silly.
Remember also that even the reformy State Superintendent of Camden, Paymon Rouhanifard, admits the Renaissance Schools have access to financing that district schools do not. If the Renaissance Schools do, indeed, turn out to be "successes," the cause might likely be that they were able to provide better facilities for their students than the CCSD. Will Janellen Duffy be demanding more funding for CCSD schools if that's the case?
School funding fairness, however, is one of those topics groups like JerseyCAN just can't find the time to address; they're too busy cheerleading for the PARCC or coming up with innumerate school rating systems.
Or maybe Duffy and her staff are too busy shifting through data the rest of us aren't allowed to see:
I have heard these arguments before and the stakes are high if we don't get this right for kids and families, so I took a look at the data for myself. The ELC's most recent data appears to have been collected from the Camden School District regarding enrollment patterns at the renaissance schools. However, those data were collected in October 2014 when the renaissance schools were only a few weeks old. Now, seven months into their first school year, these renaissance schools are proving that not only are they serving the neediest kids in Camden, they are also serving a higher percentage of needy kids than the Camden average. According to the latest data from the renaissance schools as of March 1...Whoa, whoa, WHOA! What "latest data"? Where did it come from? The schools themselves? Who vetted it? Was it uniformly reported? More importantly: why does JerseyCAN have this data and the rest of us don't?
This is a trend I'm starting to see across the state, and I do not like it one bit. People advancing their own particular agendas within the state's education system come out with school-level data that they claim is "official," yet isn't released in a uniform, public manner where it can be properly evaluated.
In this post, Duffy claims the CCSD has a kindergarten special education classification rate of 9 percent. How does she know this? Public data on classification rates doesn't break down by grade level in New Jersey, and the latest public figures are from 2013. Why does Duffy have current figures? Or maybe a better question: why don't the rest of us have this data?
This is rigged game: mouthpieces like Duffy get to release data that isn't public, isn't uniform, and hasn't been subjected to careful scrutiny, all to advance a particular agenda. Sorry, but it's not credible to base your argument on numbers that have been released to you, and only you, by interested parties.
Some of us prefer the old-fashioned approach: using public data that is replicable. What do we find when we look at the latest numbers from Camden?
Pretty much what we find across the state: charter schools don't serve, proportionately, as many students in economic disadvantage, as many students who speak English as a second language, and as many students who have special education needs. Further, the students with those needs enrolled in charters tend to have lower-cost learning disabilities.
Now, I'll be the first to say we may see a different trend with the Renaissance schools, for a few reasons. First, the "catchments" that are part of the Renaissance system may increase enrollments of free lunch-eligible, special education, and LEP students. Whether those students stay at the Renaissance charters, however, is a question that will take years to answer. Given the attrition rates of schools like North Star Academy in Newark, however, there is reason to be watchful.
Second, there is good reason to believe the use of free lunch eligibility as a proxy measure of economic disadvantage is inadequate in Camden. This is one of the most impoverished cities in the United States; so many children live at the free lunch eligibility level that we probably can't use this metric to determine which children are, relatively, the worst off.
It turns my stomach to write those words. How can we, as a state and as a nation, sit back and allow this kind of suffering to occur in our own backyard? It's utterly shameful how we refuse to muster the resources we know we have to provide the beautiful, deserving children of Camden with lives of dignity.
Instead, the self-proclaimed advocates for these kids tell us turning over public schools to private operators, against the wishes of at least some in the community and abrogating the rights of their parents, will somehow magically make all these problems disappear:
We need to move beyond these arguments over who is really serving the poorest students and embrace the real opportunities we have for change in Camden. I for one will be curious to see if Save Our Schools, ELC and others can get past these data wars and take a real look at what's happening in these renaissance schools. We know that parents and families in Camden are looking to embrace these new school opportunities. We should be fighting to support them and the growth of high quality schools with a proven track record that are serving the students with the greatest needs.Oh, please: you throw out a bunch of unverifiable, unavailable numbers and then scold skeptics for engaging in "data wars"?
We should, in fact, take a "real look" at these schools, rather than rely on yet another load of propaganda. I didn't like the way the Renaissance Schools were pushed on the Camden community. I don't like that the hard-working people of Camden don't have a say in the governance of their schools, a privilege enjoyed by suburban citizens:
But over the objections of many, the Renaissance Schools are here. Is it really too much to ask that we not celebrate their "successes" before we actually have some results we can all examine?
It's usually better to wait until all the numbers come in.