Rann Miller: When States Take Over School Districts, the Community Loses
Rann Miler directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school program in New Jersey. In this piece for the Progressive’s Public Schools Advocate section, he looks at the damage inflicted by state takeovers of schools.
ImpactED, an evaluation and research center at the University of Pennsylvania, recently released a report finding that Camden public school students in grades three-to-eight have narrowed the proficiency gap in both math and reading since the 2014-15 school year, when the Camden City School District was taken over by the state of New Jersey under then-Governor Chris Christie.
The report also makes mention that since 2014, student proficiency in both math and reading has nearly doubled.
This is good news and proof of what believers in Camden students already know: our students are intelligent, talented, and skilled. The lion’s share of the credit belongs to the students as well as the educators. Yet local politicians cite the intervention by the state of New Jersey as a reason for the reported success.
That claim is debatable.
Earlier this year, the New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) released a report finding that state intervention, in fact, did not improve Camden City student test scores.
While ImpactED focused on the improvement of student scores, NJPP compared Camden City student scores pre- and post-state intervention with other underfunded school districts, districts (some previously) under state intervention (Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson) and similar districts located in high poverty areas.
NJPP’s research showed that third, fourth, and eighth grade Camden City students performed worst amongst these comparison groups in both math and reading. While the NJPP report does show that scores improved from 2014-15 to 2018-19 (the last testing year), student scores in third and fourth grades were already trending upward prior to state intervention.
Also, the spike in student scores, specifically in eighth and eleventh grades, wasn’t limited to Camden City students, according to the NJPP report. The comparison groups, most of which were not subject to state intervention, experienced similar spikes.