I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Camden Takeover: So, Now What?

So, the state is taking over Camden's schools. Because "for too long the public school system in Camden has failed its children." OK...

What's the plan?

What is the state going to do that cannot be done under a local school board that was already appointed by the mayor and monitored closely by the state? Looking at the intervention plan, it seems that the state has no other proposals right now other than... taking over the district.

Over and over, the plan finds fault with the Camden City Public Schools for its failure to provide "leadership." What the report fails to mention, however, is that Camden has had an absent superintendent for a good long while now - a superintendent that was approved only with the assent of the state government.

The BOE was already interviewing candidates, all of which would have had to have been approved by the state once again. So it's not like the state takeover was necessary to get good leadership into Camden's system.

Again: what's the plan?

We keep hearing over and over again that the CCPS's finances must be a train wreck, because the district spends so much money per pupil. Leave aside how this argument is completely a-contextual and, on Chris Christie's part, screamingly hypocritical. According to the state's intervention plan, finance is the one bright spot in Camden's governance: page 9 says that the district has greatly improved its QSAC score under the guidance of the State Monitor. So the benefits of a takeover must have very little to do with current fiscal malfeasance.

Once more: what's the plan?

Does the state need to take over Camden so it can monitor "choice" schools? That can't be it: they already have all the power, and the local district has no oversight over the local charter schools. Of course, the state has done a poor job of monitoring charters: look at the mess they've made of LEAP Academy. If anything, given its poor record, the state ought to turn over control of charters to the locals.

It's also worth pointing out that the state's own charter report, which they commissioned from CREDO, shows that Camden's charters do worse than its public schools. Looks like the state needs to get its own house in order first; however, they are pressing ahead with the takeover.

Why? What's the plan? What is the state going to do?

Maybe the reformy folks at StudentsFirst have an idea:
For this governance change to work, Governor Christie and Commissioner Chris Cerf must think broadly about what powers are available to the state when it comes to the state’s schools and exercise the will to do whatever is necessary. Everything should be on the table – simply replacing a local bureaucracy with a state one will not get the job done.
OK, "everything should be on the table" - yeah, got it. And Christie and Cerf need to "think." Super. "Think" about what?
What else can New Jersey do to make sure that this takeover works?
Camden’s new school leaders will need to carefully prioritize district reforms.
Because the new superintendent and management team will oversee both the educational and fiscal aspects of the district, they will have to plan strategically which changes should happen when.
OK, they need to "plan strategically." What should those plans be?
There is a lot to take on, but it cannot all be done at once. If there is going to be real change in Camden, the governor, commissioner, and new district leadership team need to prioritize the work in phases, building out a clear vision and goals through the first five years.
OK, "prioritize the work in phases." Awesome. Any idea what the "work" might actually be?
Communicating these goals clearly with the community is important as well. This will help to manage expectations regarding the changes on the way and enable everyone to track progress.
"Communicating," yeah, sure, we'll do that. What will we "communicate"?


Uh, hello?

If the state is going to take the drastic step of disenfranchising Camden's citizens from running their own schools, the very least they can do is tell us what their plan is.

That is, unless they already have a plan, but they don't want to share it right now. More in a bit...

ADDING: Some more from StudentsFirst:
In planning the takeover, New Jersey can look to Louisiana for guidance. In 2005, devastated by the effects of Hurricane Katrina and in need of an emergency solution, Louisiana turned over a majority of the schools in the failing district of New Orleans to the state’s Recovery School District (RSD).
Created in 2003, the RSD has served as the Louisiana’s state-run district for the state’s lowest-performing schools. Under this model, New Orleans schools have demonstrated tremendous gains since Superintendent Paul Vallas took charge of the district in 2007. When he took over, Vallas delineated a clear plan and vision for the RSD and carried that plan through.  (There have been two RSD Superintendents since the tenure of Vallas).
Would those "tremendous gains" for RSD-NO include remaining a "failing" school district, ranking last out of all districts in Louisiana? How about creating a segregated system for special education students? Has that been "tremendous"?
This post is actually quite remarkable: it manages to discuss New Orleans education without mentioning the post-Katrina diaspora and its effect on education, and it discusses Camden's educational outcomes without mentioning the city's crushing poverty.

That's a whole lot of stuff to ignore...


Anonymous said...

What's the plan?


Rod viquez said...

The plan is to railroad for profit schools through urban areas. No affluent district would tolerate this.

Unknown said...

Camden New Jersey school takeover

Governor Christie offered few details to explain how the "intervention" would affect the district's 12,000 students or its teachers and parents -

Christie did, however, point to post-Katrina New Orleans as a model for how a school district could be turned around…
Post-Katrina Reforms in New Orleans Continue to Disenfranchise African-Americans, Poor

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the entire staff of the city's public school system was fired - more than 7,500 employees lost their jobs, despite the protection of union membership and a contract. Thousands of young teachers, many affiliated with programs like Teach For America, filled the empty slots. As charters took over from traditional public schools, the city became what then-superintendent Paul Vallas called the first 100 percent free-market public school system in the United States

Free Market free fire zone
In a stock market prospectus uncovered by education author Jonathan Kozol, the Montgomery Securities group explains to Corporate America the lure of privatizing education. Kozol writes:
“The education industry,” according to these analysts, “represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control” that have either voluntarily opened or, they note in pointed terms, have “been forced” to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, “the education industry represents the largest market opportunity” since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s.... From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, “The K–12 market is the Big Enchilada.”

Milton Friedman introduced the idea of market-driven education in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom

Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys tripped down to Chile to run their “experiment” after Henry Kissinger and the CIA killed their elected president on Sept. 11th, 1973 and installed the ruthless dictator Augusto Pinochet in his place.

Today, Pinochet and Friedman are dead. But the world they helped usher in survives, in increasingly grotesque form. What was considered extreme in Chile in 1975 has now become the norm in the US today: a society where the market defines the totality of human fulfillment, and a government that tortures in the name of freedom.

In an op-ed for the The Wall Street Journal three weeks following Hurricane Katrina, Milton Friedman wrote: "Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who attended them. The children are scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system."