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

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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:

  • Based on last year’s ASK tests, 14% of Bonsall’s third and fourth grade students are proficient in reading and 20% are proficient in math. This compares with state proficiency rates of 66% and 75% respectively; within Camden, proficiency rates are 21% and 31%. One in nine children in Bonsall read on grade level.
  • Based on a series of site visits by administrators and teachers, 32% of classes offered “challenging classroom instruction,” 0% were gauged as demonstrating “active student engagement,” and 41% offered a “positive school culture.”
  • The student attendance rate (91%) was higher than the teacher attendance rate (89%).
  •  Sixteen percent of the students felt safe in the building. 
  • Two percent of students felt there were “favorable attitudes towards social environment, individual emotional safety, and student behavior.”
  •  In the good news category, 83% of students were happy with the Bonsall’s “family and community engagement.” Students rated “school, community morale” at 21% and teachers rated it 35%.

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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1 Comment

  • e47882b0-fe94-11e4-abcf-83bd9700c8e5, May 20, 2015 @ 2:26 am Reply

    This is diabolical. Only Divine intervention will save our children.

    This is diabolical on the level of the Third Reich. How do so few fool so many of good conscience to sacrifice their children on the altar of someone else's political advantage for so long!?!

    The numbers cited in this article are reminiscent of the numbers cited for Baltimore in the tragic documentary, “The Boys of Baraka.” If you see this movie, you will see a template that will easily fit Camden with little more than a zip code change.

    I am speechless. I am also mute. I am mute, because no one in my community listens to me when I say what we are doing as a community (descendants of African slaves)is literally killing us.

    I use 1970 to mark the beginning of the empowerment of American Africans and American Latinos in New Jersey. This is the year that Kenneth A. Gibson was elected Mayor of Newark. From this time more American African and American Latino candidates were elected to leadership positions – mostly under the Democratic Party banner. Town executives, council members, commissioners, county officials and legislators increasingly came from the Black and Brown community. This was especially true in the major cities cited in the article. Newark, Trenton and Camden have been predominantly run by members of the Democratic Party. This coupled with the nearly exclusive support of the Party by the Black community means these cities' municipal institutions were likewise dominated by the Democratic Party.

    Now, nearly 50 years in, what have we to show for our devotion to the Democratic Party and its surrogates in the public schools?

    What are the reasons given to parents seeking their support in opposition to any change in the status quo? Here is one. The strategy is a diabolical appeal to children's and parents' concern for others. In the case of vouchers or other educational choice initiatives they implore what will be the fate of the children whose parents do not remove them from schools while the schools are under reconstruction? They claim that if half of the money that would have been allocated to the departing students is not available to the district (the usual proportion), then what will happen to the remaining students?

    So parents of children in districts that fail to deliver on their duty to educate the children are made to feel guilty for wanting their own children to succeed while others continue to go lacking.

    Every time we board an airliner we are given instruction of what to do if the cabin pressure drops. We are told how to apply the oxygen masks, and what to do if our seat mates are having difficulty.

    We are told to ensure that our masks are secured BEFORE seeking to assist others.

    Parents should never feel selfish or any guilt for ensuring their own children are equipped for life. In fact, returning to the airliner scenario, if one passenger is having difficulty applying her mask, I cannot begin to help her if I am asphyxiating. There will be two asphyxiation victims. On the other hand, if I am breathing, then I am far more capable of helping her than if I am not.

    If a parent removes her child to an education option that equips him to serve as a productive citizen from one that for decades has not, she is making the best contribution possible to the remaining children. First she enables a 50% windfall for the children remaining in the district. Thus, instead of the average $18,000 spent on a child (more like over $25,000 for Abbott districts) in NJ, the remaining children are now allocated at least $27,000 (Abbott, over $37,500) per child.

    Finally, and most importantly, she facilitates growth in the community. An educated child is an empowered adult. An educated child is an adult with options. An educated child is an intellectual and rational adult. An educated child is an adult who can solve problems. An educated child is a parent whose children are likely to exceed her as a benefit to the community.

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