New Jersey to Take Over Failing Camden Schools

Governor Chris Christie and his administration, including Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, have had enough in Camden, New Jersey, as the city’s education system will come under the direction of the state.

At the Courer Post Online, Phil Dunn details how Camden’s schools have long failed to impress parents, taxpayers and politicians. In the 2011-2012 school year, Camden’s graduation rate declined from an already-dismal 57% to 49% — the second lowest mark in the state.

Christie described the situation with characteristic bluntness:

“Today we are taking the lead because for too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children,” Christie said at press conference on Monday.

“The situation I believe is dire now and so far gone that we are at a breaking point.”

The average graduation rate in the state of New Jersey is ~86%.

The state’s takeover will be broad. A transition team will conduct a nationwide search to select a leader, and the state government would control finances, teacher hiring and curriculum.

Camden school board member Kathryn Ribay was outraged by the decision to wrest control of the district and tendered her resignation from the board just a few hours after Christie’s announcement:

“This sudden symbolic move, perhaps driven by a fear of the strong, independently minded finalists chosen by the board in its superintendent search, is more focused on publicity than academic options,” Ribay wrote in her resignation letter.

She added, “I cannot participate in the continued disenfranchisement of the City of Camden.”

Only three of the nine members of the Board supported the state takeover.

Teachers unions are displeased as well — especially because they were not consulted in the run-up to the decision.

Christie acknowledged that he had not met with the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, about the plan. The organization released a statement saying that “the track record for state-run districts has been questionable at best” and that it would “withhold judgment” until more details were available.

Urban districts that have fallen under New Jersey control include Jersey City, Newark and Paterson, though Camden will be the first taken over by Christie’s administration.

Camden sits across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and roughly 40% of its population of nearly 78,000 live below the poverty line. With a local government that is no stranger to corruption — three of the city’s mayors have been convicted of corruption, most recently in 2000 — and which owns one of the highest crime rates in the United States, the police force has been under state control since 2005.

Camden schools spend ~$24,000 per pupil annually.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.