Jersey Jazzman: NY Tests Show Cerf's Plan For Camden is ALREADY a Failure
Nothing gives New Jersey's education chief, Chris Cerf, more joy than bringing in national charter management organizations (CMOs) to run New Jersey's schools.
He loves bringing K12 Inc. into Newark (so does Cory Booker). He loves bringing Vahan Gureghian's outfit across the Delaware from Chester, PA, where it has bankrupted the local district. He loves having Scholars Academy come in from Philadelphia to take over a locally-run charter in Trenton that was committed to teaching special education kids. He loves giving charters to CMOs affiliated with the controversial Gulen network. He loves giving the people behind the Imagine charter schools fiasco in St. Louis second chances to run charters in Jersey City.
Why does Chris Cerf love bringing in outsiders to run New Jersey's schools? The commissioner will tell you it's their "track records":
“If you look across the board, we really have some terrific schools operating in New Jersey,” Cerf said, listing schools from larger charter management organizations. “We’re really aiming for success. We haven’t gotten them all right, but I think we’ve seen some really terrific schools.”
When asked whether the state was favoring the network schools, Cerf said he was seeking a balance.
“We’re looking at models that work, and definitely seeing some one-off schools that have tremendous potential,” he said. “But this is really hard work, and we are looking for good reasons to give a charter, and one point of evidence is they have a track record of success.” [emphasis mine]
That's a very interesting statement, given the results of the New York State tests that were just released last week. You see, two of Cerf's favorite CMO chains are coming to Camden: KIPP and Democracy Prep.
KIPP was granted one of the coveted spots for a Renaissance School, a quasi-charter that will be built on land controlled by South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross. It apparently mattered little to Norcross or Cerf that KIPP has already tried and failed in Camden; their "success" in places like New York City was all the proof both men needed to get behind the national CMO.
Likewise, Cerf must have been impressed by the track record of Democracy Prep, which basically swooped in like a vulture to take over the "failing" Freedom Academy Charter School. As I wrote at the time:
To recap: Democracy Prep's practices includes more spending per pupil, a rigid "no-excuses" culture, high rates of attrition, and segregation by poverty, special need, and English proficiency.
This is your future, Camden - imposed on you by state-officials and outside CMOs. Don't even think about fighting back.
But it must be worth it, right? I mean, KIPP and Democracy Prep have such exemplary "track records," don't they? They must have done great on the latest rounds of the New York State tests - they must have! Didn't they?
The Democracy Prep chain posted uneven results, with particularly poor scores in sixth grade. In its Harlem charter, fewer than 4 percent of sixth graders passed the language arts exam, and fewer than 12 percent passed math. Its best results came at the eighth grade level, but even then the pass rate on both tests was under 33 percent — better than the citywide average of about 26 percent, but not a quantum leap above other public schools.
Democracy Prep officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The highly touted KIPP network also stumbled, with proficiency rates well below the city average for several grades and subjects. At KIPP Star College Prep, just 11 percent of fifth graders were proficient in math and just 16 percent passed the reading test. Seventh grade was another weak point, with 11 percent proficient in language arts and 14 percent in math. KIPP also did not respond to a request for comment.
The poor results for KIPP, Democracy Prep and other renowned charters suggest that “we have to be more careful about claims of miracle schools,” said Michael Petrilli, an education analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. [emphasis mine]
Ruh-roh: when you've lost Petrilli, you know you've got problems...
Keep in kind that DP actually revels in its high student attrition rate (KIPP tries to downplay theirs, but their real "track record" in New Jersey when it comes to retaining students is hardly impressive). Tom Moran over at the Star-Ledger, however, promised the people of Camden that the KIPP school would take all of the children in the neighborhood. Tom still hasn't taken me up on my bet about this; golly, I wonder why...
But even if we ignore all the evidence that KIPP and DP won't serve all of Camden's students, it's clear that neither did particularly well on the New York State tests. Maybe someone should ask Commissioner Cerf about all this. Maybe someone should ask him to justify bringing in outside CMOs when it turns out their track records aren't as good as Cerf made them out to be.
If Cerf doesn't have a good answer - and I doubt he will - then maybe we should heed Diane Ravitch's advice:
And never forget, the reformers want you to believe that their decisions are irreversible. They say the train has left the station. No, they are not. No, it has not. Every decision can be changed by new leadership. [emphasis mine]
Amen. All that's required is a new sense of accountability at the NJDOE.
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