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New Jersey Governor Christie Paves Way for Privatizing Camden Schools

Christie announces takeover based on corporate "reform" model

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The wave of school privatizations couched under the banner of "reform" may be headed to Camden, New Jersey.

Taking advantage of what he described as a crisis in the Camden school district, Governor Chris Christie announced Monday that the district "has proven undeniably to be broken and incapable of change on its own," and said the state was going to take over the district because "decisive action and reform are desperately needed."

Describing part of the plan, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Most significantly, the current school board search for a superintendent is stalled, with Christie now in charge of appointing a new school leader. He said the board may have some valuable candidates whom the state would consider, but the board will now serve in an advisory role -- so members no longer have control of the process. Christie also gets to appoint three more members to the advisory board.

Part of the problem Christie described were low test scores and graduation rates for Camden students:

The school system for this city of about 77,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia long has been plagued with low test scores, falling graduation rates and declining enrollment. During the 2011-12 school year, graduation rates plummeted by 7 percentage points to 49.3%, down from 56.9% the year before. The graduation rate statewide is 86%, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Camden, the sixth largest school district in New Jersey, has the second lowest graduation rate. Only Trenton, N.J., schools are lower.

Three of Camden's schools are the lowest-performing in the state, and 90% are in the bottom 5%. Less than 20% of fourth- graders are proficient in language arts literacy, and just 28% of 11th-graders are proficient in math.

But as DSWright points out at Firedoglake, Christie's takeover is a plan to force privatization programs, and writes:

Chris Christie was formerly a registered lobbyist for education privatization firm Edison Schools Inc. His current education commissioner, Chris Cerf, was previously President of Edison Schools Inc. at the time of Christie’s employment.

The governor's plan also includes tours of "charter schools in low-income areas as examples of the possibilities for change in Camden."

And the Inquirer adds:

teachers' unions and other advocates opposed to Christie's approach to education have long argued that more resources are needed for urban students because they have greater needs. Advocates blame Christie for Camden's failings, saying he has forsaken traditional public schools for an expanded charter school system and the creation of public-private hybrid schools called renaissance schools, both of which drain funding from the district's budget.

Two of Christie's last three public visits to Camden revolved around such schools. He announced the renaissance school concept in Camden, then returned to the city to sign the bill authorizing creation of such schools.

Further, previous takeover efforts also offer no assurance of success:

Previous takeovers – including in Paterson, Newark and Jersey City -- have provoked controversy, and residents often complain they have too little say in decisions that affect their children. Many of the schools in these cities continue to have dismally low test scores and graduation rates, despite aggressive state interventions. In Paterson, for example, 41 percent of eighth graders failed state tests in language arts last spring, and 60 percent failed in math.

And in Newark, the school board is in court fighting to get back at least some local controls.

Christie's plan relies on seeing the need because of low standardized test scores, and also cites a low number of teacher evaluations, factors in the kind of "corporate education" model that President Obama and other Democrats have championed, and that has done little to improve the quality of education in the schools and leaves deeper problems, such as poverty, affecting education unaddressed.