Camden schools need rescuing now

Gov. Christie's latest idea is to push the privatization of public schools, but that's not the answer for Camden schoolchildren who can't wait for that idea to develop. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)

It comes as no surprise that the Christie administration closed its eyes when critical factors screamed for state education officials to take a more active role with Camden schools.

Gov. Christie has made it clear from the day he entered office that he would rather push for charters and vouchers as alternatives to bad public schools than do what is needed to fix them.

Lately, Christie seemed to be giving the troubled Camden system more of his attention. But it now looks as if that was just part of his strategy to leverage more support for charters.

Evidence for that assumption can be found in a new report that shows the state ignored criteria a year ago that called for stronger intervention in Camden. The district had failed in three performance areas and scored poorly in two others in a state evaluation.

That was all the ammunition the state needed to order sweeping corrective action. It could have placed three new members on the Camden school board and dispatched a team of skilled professionals to provide needed expert advice to the district.

Instead, the governor sat on his hands. A state education spokesman says a new evaluation of Camden schools should be complete by the end of the month. Will the administration use that study to make a difference, or will it let the school system continue to inadequately educate children until they can escape?

So much for the urgency that Christie has repeatedly called for to repair failing schools and give kids in chronically poorly performing districts like Camden’s a chance at a better education.

But he’s doing no worse than his predecessor, Jon Corzine, whose administration could have sought a full intervention to take charge of Camden schools but didn’t after the district received failing marks in all five categories in its 2007 evaluation.

For at least a decade, the state has had some oversight over Camden schools, but that limited role has largely failed to improve the schools. With comprehensive intervention, the state could even appoint a new superintendent — a strong step, but one that may be needed to end the pattern of failure.

Thousands of Camden students have already fled to charter schools, but there have been mixed results in their academic achievement — a reminder that charters may not be the best answer.

A preliminary graduation report released last week by school board member Sean Brown provides more evidence of how bad the schools are. At Camden High, only 153 out of 257 seniors met state and district graduation requirements, pending last-minute appeals and exams. At Woodrow Wilson High, only 123 out of 240 seniors met both requirements.

Those numbers should give Christie a sense of urgency to do more than push for vouchers and more charters. There are children who can’t wait. Don’t ignore opportunities to help them now.