Violent assaults, drug dealing, gang fights — sounds like a poorly run prison. But that’s what kids in Camden have to contend with, when they show up to their public schools.
The academics are abysmal. The buildings are crumbling and overcrowded. So think like a parent in Camden: If someone offered your kid a chance to attend an alternative public school, in a brand-new building run by a private nonprofit, would you turn to them in outrage and say, “Is this the private sector homing in on public education?”
No. You’d say, sign my kid up. Sign him up right now. Especially if you heard that this new school would be run by the same folks heading the highly successful TEAM charter schools in Newark.
That’s this morning’s Star-Ledger editorial regarding the Urban Hope Act, a piece of recently-signed legislation that permits nonprofits to build and operate up to four “renaissance” public schools in Camden, Trenton, and Newark.
The proposed school, to be called KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, is intended for kids in kindergarten-5th grade in the Lanning Square neighborhood of Camden. According to coverage today from NJ Spotlight, highlights would include an extended school day and a “vigorous college prep program.” There’s guaranteed enrollment for all children in the catchment area, including those with disabilities. The goal is to at least double “the number of Camden students who attain a four-year college degree by 2030, according to an announcement from the group.” According to the DOE, 44.69% of Camden High’s class of 2011 graduated.
Unlike other charter schools in NJ, the Urban Hope Act specifies that the local school board must approve the new charter. Camden Board of Education has issued requests for proposals and will make a decision at the end of August.
(Also see today’s coverage from PolitickerNJ, which notes that “doctors and nurses from Cooper University Hospital and medical students from Cooper Medical School of Rowan University Hospital will act as mentors to the school’s students.” And here’s an earlier article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)
Right now, at the traditional Lanning Square Elementary School, according to DOE data, 84% of third graders fail the state assessment in language arts and 77% fail the math section. Total cost per pupil is $22,306.
So a newly-constructed public school for children ghettoized in one of NJ’s worst schools is a no-brainer, right?
Not so fast. The proposal is mired in politics. George Norcross, legendary heavy-hitter, is head of the private Cooper Foundation, which is partnering with the highly-regarded TEAM charter schools. While NJEA supports the Urban Hope Act (some say as cover for continued opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Act), Education Law Center remains opposed, primarily because establishment of the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy would bypass the dysfunctional School Development Authority’s mandate to construct a new school in the same area.
ELC is joined in its opposition by Save Our Schools-NJ, which posted that the Urban Hope Act should be called the “Enhancing Urban Corruption” Act, and that “this is major league public education privatization and a recipe for corruption and abuse, being snuck through the legislature at the end of the Lame Duck Session.”
With all due respect, who cares? If all goes as planned, in 2013 kids in Camden’s Lanning Square neighborhood will have a safe, effective educational option overseen by the great TEAM group. ELC and SOS-NJ, I suppose, would prefer that those kids wait until the SDA is transformed into a functional state agency while children in Camden continue to attend failure factories. Such an outcome would align with the Abbott rulings; ELC may fear that it’s a slippery slope from actual brick and mortar to school funding.
But this outcome is a winner for the kids in Camden, as well as their families, politics be damned. NJEA has it right:
NJEA’s support of this legislation is another good-faith effort by NJEA and its members to explore new ways of giving every child in New Jersey access to a great public school. The sponsors wisely made this a limited pilot so that everyone involved can focus on making these schools successful. We call on the public education community to join NJEA in working for the success of these Renaissance schools. Their success will once again demonstrate that New Jersey’s public schools work.