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Advocates for Camden City students are cheering the results of a new report, commissioned by Camden Education Fund and conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s ImpactED. The analysis finds Camden public schools have narrowed the gap in both reading and math proficiency since the 2013 state takeover. “In my brief tenure as mayor, there have already been two independent academic studies touting Camden schools’ progress,” said Mayor Vic Carstarphen. “Our students are gifted, our staff are dedicated, and our city is focused.”
Besides the state takeover (which an earlier study found successful for students and families), a 2014 legislative bill called the Urban Hope Act has resulted in higher student outcomes city-wide. The bill allowed the Camden School Board to approve partnerships with high-performing nonprofit charter operators to open “renaissance schools,” hybrids of district and charter schools, that would have to serve all children in their attendance zones. The three nonprofits approved by the Board were KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery.
ImpactED’s results confirm an earlier report from Stanford University (and belie the jaundiced findings of this one). In reading—across all three public school sectors, traditional district schools, renaissance schools, and charter schools—proficiency in English Language Arts (or reading) for students in grades 3-8 doubled from 2014-2019, narrowing the gap with the state by 5.3 percentage points. Math proficiency nearly doubled among students in grades 3-8, narrowing the gap with the state by 2.6 percentage points.
For context, in 2014-15 only 6.5% of Camden district students were proficient in reading and 4.3% were proficient in math, although when charters and new renaissance schools were factored in, that rate rose to 13.8% in reading and 9.6% in math. Now, among all public school students, proficiency in reading has risen to 27.4% and proficiency in math has risen to 18.3%.
The improvements in outcomes varied across the sector. Here is the data broken down by type of public school:
- District schools increases in math proficiency rates were relatively consistent across all grade levels, between 2 and 8 percentage points.
- Charter schools saw greater increases in math proficiency rates for 3rd grade (9.9 percentage points) and 4th grade (8.9 percentage points) than for the other grade levels.
- Renaissance schools saw the greatest increases in math proficiency in 3rd grade (34.1 percentage points), 4th grade (19.8 percentage points), and 7th grade (12.5 percentage points). In all other grades, increases were between 5 and 10 percentage points.
Concurrently, the enrollment of Camden City public school students shifted between school years 2014-15 and 2019-20. Total enrollment grew from 14,922 to 15,997, an increase of 7.2 percent. While enrollment in traditional charter schools increased only slightly (from 29% to 32% among all Camden public school students), enrollment in renaissance schools (those district/charter hybrids) increased from 4% to 32%. The percentage of students enrolled in Camden district schools decreased from 67% to 38% of total enrollment.
Importantly, during that same time period renaissance schools increased their proportionate enrollment of students with disabilities from 11.1% to 18.5% while charters increased their special needs enrollment from 7.6% to 11.2%. In district schools, enrollment of students with disabilities decreased very slightly, from 17.1% to 16.7%.
ImpactED derived its data from the New Jersey Department of Education for the 39 schools in Camden. Analysts note, “This report is intended to be an initial exploration of change over the time period, and we will be releasing a more comprehensive report later in the year.” This later report will include “students’ and families’ perceptions of changes in educational opportunities and outcomes.”