Changing Public School Governance: Taking over the Camden, NJ Schools

Matthew DiCarlo:

Earlier this week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that the state will assume control over Camden City School District. Camden will be the fourth NJ district to undergo takeover, though this is the first time that the state will be removing control from an elected local school board, which will now serve in an advisory role (and have three additional members appointed by the Governor). Over the next few weeks, NJ officials will choose a new superintendent, and begin to revamp evaluations, curricula and other core policies.
Accompanying the announcement, the Governor’s office released a two-page “fact sheet,” much of which is devoted to justifying this move to the public.
Before discussing it, let’s be clear about something – it may indeed be the case that Camden schools are so critically low-performing and/or dysfunctional as to warrant drastic intervention. Moreover, it’s at least possible that state takeover is the appropriate type of intervention to help these schools improve (though the research on this latter score is, to be charitable, undeveloped).
That said, the “fact sheet” presents relatively little valid evidence regarding the academic performance of Camden schools. Given the sheer magnitude of any takeover decision, it is crucial for the state to demonstrate publicly that they have left no stone unturned by presenting a case that is as comprehensive and compelling as possible. However, the discrepancy between that high bar and NJ’s evidence, at least that pertaining to academic outcomes, is more than a little disconcerting.

From the Governor’s two page, fact sheet:

The problem is not a lack of funding, as Camden is receiving over $279.5 million in this year’s budget, an increase of $3.6
million from last year.
• During the 2011-12 school year, Camden spent $23,709 per student, compared to the statewide average of $18,045.
• Additionally, the teacher/student ratio during those years was 9.3 to 1, which was the lowest statewide of the largest
106 school districts in the state.