CAMDEN

Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Camden has made it possible for families to enroll in any school in the city and has improved many low-performing schools. These changes were only possible through intentional partnership with the community. Talent and school-level budget flexibility remain challenges, as does having a variety of new school models.
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Is the education strategy rooted in the community?

Good

Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.

Good

 

► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

During the 2014 rollout of the Camden Commitment, families helped shape the citywide school discipline policy and reduced the city’s walk zone. Since then, the district has continued outreach efforts through social media and home visits. In addition, the district has a Parent Advisory Council that meets monthly. But interviewees said that more still needs to be done. One interviewee said that neighborhoods with failing district schools do not have many ways of engaging in the education strategy. And there is a perception that good avenues don’t yet exist for parents of charter and Renaissance schools to elevate their concerns.

Good

 

► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

In the past, the superintendent, mayor, city council, and governor have been well-aligned in their support of the city’s education strategy. As of June 2018 Camden has a new mayor and governor and will soon have a new superintendent. It remains to be seen what this means for the education strategy. The new mayor, Frank Moran, publicly supports Renaissance schools. The new governor, Phil Murphy, visited Camden before swearing in, but has given mixed messages about his support of charter schools.

Good

 

► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

On a case-by-case basis, the district has responded to community feedback about school closures, school reconstitution, and school operators for Renaissance schools. When a school closes, Camden Enrollment and Parents for Great Camden Schools help families transition to a new school. No charter schools have opened in the past several years, but interviewees remember that communities were not involved in opening schools, and a 2017 charter closure was announced late in the school year.

Good

 

► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

At the school level, organizations offer enrichment activities, and nonprofits and healthcare providers support students suffering from trauma. However, interviewees noted that students need more organizational support to offer emotional and mental health services. Churches and local businesses are involved in the education strategy to some extent. The city has one active family advocacy group, Parents for Great Camden Schools, that operates in the north and east of Camden, and several other smaller organizations work with families in other parts of the city.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?

Good

Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.

Good

► Is the enrollment process working for families?

In the 2015-16 school year, Camden implemented a unified enrollment system, Camden Enrollment, which uses a single application for all magnet, traditional, Renaissance, and charter schools. The system is easy to use, with school maps and family resources. One charter operator, LEAP Academy University School, has pulled out of the enrollment system. All other schools in the city are represented.

Good

► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

Camden Enrollment released a new school information guide for 2016-17, and has made improvements every year since then. In 2017-18, student growth rates and early childhood programs were added to existing proficiency rate, curriculum, and family service information. Camden Enrollment and Parents for Great Camden Schools have partnered to host community meetings and guide families through the choice process. 2018 interviewees noted that more nonprofits need to step in to help families make sense of their options. Families reportedly struggle to find a school that is a good fit, especially families with children who need special education and English language learner services.

Good

► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

Since 2015, Camden’s new school growth has been driven by Renaissance schools operated by Mastery, KIPP, and Uncommon charter networks. The expansion of Renaissance schools has slowed but still continues. Throughout this process, the district has been investing in traditional district schools. Early results are promising. However, low-performing high schools persist, and interviewees noted a tension between how and where charter operators wanted to expand and what the community needs. Criteria for making closure, restart, and new school decisions exist but are not publicly available.

Developing

► Is transportation working for families?

Camden offers free transportation to any school in the city outside a two-mile walk zone, via yellow school buses for K–8 students and bus passes for high school students. Many, but not all, Renaissance and charter schools provide courtesy busing. Despite these policies, interviewees reported that transportation is a major barrier for families, especially for families living within the two-mile walk zone. Camden has limited public transportation, and few families own cars. Abandoned buildings and no sidewalks in many neighborhoods make it unsafe for students to walk or wait for a bus.

Developing

► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Of the 10 schools that have opened in Camden since 2014-15, all of them have been Renaissance schools, which use a traditional instructional approach. Some variety exists among district and charter options, like Big Picture, but 2018 interviewees noted that there are few Montessori, dual-language, and vocational school options.

Is the education system continuously improving?

Developing

Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.

Good

► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

2017 interviewees noted that Camden had enough principals for district and Renaissance schools, and were mostly satisfied with the quality of applicants. Renaissance partners, which include Mastery, KIPP, and Uncommon charter networks, have been using their own pipelines to develop leaders. However, system leaders worry that school leadership may be an issue as Renaissance schools expand. We did not have information about the quality or fit of charter leaders.

Developing

► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

In 2017, district leaders identified some trouble filling teacher positions, especially in science, math, and special education. Camden has some teacher pipelines in place, and education leaders are currently working on a citywide recruitment campaign to attract teachers for district and charter schools.

Little in Place

► Does funding equitably follow students?

The district does not use a student-based allocation formula, although it does weight funds based on student needs using New Jersey’s student-based allocation recommendations. Renaissance schools have control over their budgets (based on an analysis of fiscal year 2017-18).

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels

Background

About Camden

In 2012, Camden schools had some of the worst student outcomes in New Jersey: not one school among the city’s 26 was meeting state standards. In 2013, the New Jersey Department of Education took over the district. Camden launched a unified enrollment and information system, Camden Enrollment, to provide families with better information and access to school options. To improve school quality, low-performing district schools joined in partnership with high-quality charter operators who manage these “Renaissance” schools as neighborhood district schools.

School Choice in the City

All of the city’s schools are available for choice, although students are guaranteed a seat at their neighborhood school. By law, Renaissance schools must give preference to neighborhood students.

Governance Model

The New Jersey Department of Education manages the city’s district schools and authorizes all charter schools.

2015 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 14,975 students
Race and ethnicity: 54% Hispanic, 44% black, 1% white, 1% other
Low-income: 89% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Source: Enrollment data from the New Jersey Department of Education, 2014-15.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email crpe@uw.edu.