Camden has greatest share of students enrolled in charter schools in the state

In today’s Inquirer, my colleague Dan Hardy took a look at a study released Tuesday by a Stanford University research center that found that students in New Jersey charter schools had greater learning gains, on average, than those in comparable traditional public schools.

While the report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) was positive for charters statewide, Camden's charter schools overall did not share in the good news. The study said comparable students in the public schools from which Camden's charter students are drawn showed greater gains in reading ability on state tests than students in the charters and about the same gains in math as the city's charters. The study did not release information on individual charter performance.

Nevertheless, Charters are growing in Camden and throughout the state at a faster pace than ever before. 

As of the 2011-2012 school year, Camden had the largest share of students in charter schools compared to other cities in the state, according to a recently released national report A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities. Nearly 3,000 of students were enrolled in the city’s seven charter schools last school year compared to the 13,620 in traditional public schools. Two more charter schools opened in Camden this fall, bring the total number of charters to nine. 

Camden ranked No. 13 in having the largest share (18 percent) of students in charter schools. Newark ranked No. 15 and Jersey City No. 20. 

The growth of charter schools throughout the state is in part because of demand from parents, said New Jersey Charter School Association President Carlos Perez. 

“Parents are seeing both new and better options for their children,” Perez said, citing the majority of Camden traditional public schools are failing (23 of the city’s 26 schools were determined to be some of the worst performing in the state.)

On average between eight to 10 new charter schools are opening up in New Jersey each year, Perez said, adding that he would like to see even more.

However, given the CREDO findings, Perez said there should be a stricter way of approving, evaluating and renewing charters. 

“There is a history of poor authorizing standards,” in places like Trenton and Jersey City, which have each closed charter schools in the past year, Perez said.