Tag Archive: Urban Hope Act

Massive Norcross Hypocrisy: Competition Is Good For Schools, But Bad For Me

Jersey Jazzman posted this at his own excellent site just before the weekend. Yesterday, Camden parents protested the undemocratic privatization of their schools as personified by George Norcross. I thought this post was in order – Rosi

Sometimes I wonder why my head doesn’t just explode:

With 300 people filling a shiny new auditorium for speeches and cheers, the ribbon-cutting held yesterday at the new KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy in Camden at times seemed as much a precursor of the city’s educational future as it was a celebration of the opening of a school.

The event marked the opening of the first new “renaissance school” built under the Urban Hope Act of 2012 that brought the hybrid charter schools to New Jersey and, specifically, Camden.

The speakers were familiar names in Camden circles: Mayor Dana Redd; U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, who authored the Urban Hope Act when he was a state senator; and Susan Bass Levin, president and CEO of Cooper Foundation.

Sitting in the front row was George Norcross III, chairman of Cooper University Health Care and the chief driver of the school’s rise from a vacant lot next to the hospital. [emphasis mine]

Because it’s now standard operating procedure in America to throw everything down the memory hole, a little history is in order:

The vacant lot that this KIPP school sits on today was supposed to be for a public district school. The state promised that it would build the school to serve all of the students in the Lanning Square area. And as the city school board waited for the state to fulfill its promises, it rebuffed an effort to bring KIPP into Camden, perhaps motivated by the fact that KIPP had already tried and failed in the city years before.  

Evidence Shows NJ’s Urban Hope Act Unlikely To Work

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

The Urban Hope Act, which will greatly expand charter school enrollment in Camden, overwhelmingly passed the Senate this week following Governor Chris Christie’s conditional veto. The bill now heads to the Assembly; if it passes, the Mastery and Uncommon charter chains will be allowed to use existing CCPS facilities and revenues to grow their presence in Camden, inevitably leading to the closure of many of the city’s public schools.

Senate President Steve Sweeney gives the impression that the “failure” of CCPS to educate Camden’s children leaves him little choice but to approve the UHA:

The revised bill was opposed by some local and statewide advocates who oppose charter expansion in the state-run Camden district. Some of those advocates have filed a legal challenge to the approvals. Sweeney yesterday said he heard the criticism, but discounted it.

“I’m open to improve education in Camden, and we’re hoping this is part of the solution,” he said. “We could be wrong, but what we are doing otherwise isn’t working.” [emphasis mine]

We could be wrong” is hardly a ringing endorsement of a policy that will radically restructure Camden’s schools. But I am convinced, having studied this issue at length, that Sweeney’s tepid endorsement here actually overstates the case for the UHA. I say this because we have quite a bit of empirical evidence regarding the characterization of Camden, and it all leads to one conclusion:

Given what we know about charter schools in New Jersey, the Urban Hope Act is unlikely to work.

Rutgers professor Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, a founding member of SOSNJ*, has extensively outlined much of the evidence I’ll present here. Her analysis examined both Mastery and Uncommon; my quick rundown focuses only on Uncommon, as there is no New Jersey data yet available on Mastery.

From Jose Delgado on Urban Hope: “The bill will pass because the people it affects don’t count.”

Republicans have a long history of giving awful legislation prettied-up names that actually do the exact opposite of what they sound like they’re about; Democrats do that too, sometimes. And today, the NJ Senate voted to push the ethically questionable and legally challenged “Urban Hope Act” a step closer to further privatize more schools in Camden. This is a legacy opportunity for George Norcross, whose allies are its chief proponents, and it opens up new horizons for profiteers who want to play with the future of Camden kids.

I got a message today from a Blue Jersey reader that I want to share with you. To be frank, the language is a little more raw and angry than our usual, but it seems to me the parents and community of Camden are being shoved around. And people whose kids are being disrespected have every right to sound like they sound, and express frustration the way it comes out. He’s not alone.

About Jose Delgado: Jose was a member of the Camden Board of Education for about 24 years. And he served years ago on the federal National Advisory Council for Bilingual Education; the state’s Educational Opportunity Fund board; member of the NJ School Boards Association, NJ Bilingual Advisory Board and many other organizations and projects. And he was a Camden parent; his daughter graduated from Woodrow Wilson HS. She’s now an RN.

From Jose Delgado:

Suffice it to say that Sweeney represents the Norcross Republi-Crat wing of the NJ Democratic Party. This is not our parents’ Democratic Party .  The situation is so bad that even a political bosses’ manipulation of the legislative process is openly embraced and advanced by elected officials.  A case in point are the school districts of Camden and other cities which are being destroyed by an right-wing ideological agenda lubricated by corporations interested in cashing in on public education funds.  

People like Sweeney, an otherwise likeable fellow, are ambitious politicians who see these types of issue as tests they must pass in order to move to higher office. I’m sure that Sweeney knows that he needs Boss Norcross’ blessing.  Governor Sweeney, what an intoxicating sounding thing to hear.

Charters: No Consequences For Failure

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman:

The justification for closing down public schools and replacing them with charters is that the public schools have tried and failed to serve poor, urban kids, and we have a moral imperative to try something different. The publics had their chance, and they blew it; let’s try something new.  

But what if what we’re really doing is trying something old?

Three proposals for a Hope Act charter school here were submitted on time Friday.  

The applications came from KIPP Norcross Cooper Academy, which held a press conference to announce its bid, as well as record producer Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies and the Benjamin Franklin Academy.


But officials of the proposed KIPP Norcross Cooper Academy said they hope eventually to serve 2,840 Camden students in grades pre-K through 12. The academy, to rise at the former site of a city school in Lanning Square, would begin with a kindergarten class in 2014, the organizers said.  

KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, is a nonprofit chain of charter schools based in San Francisco. The Camden proposal calls for a TEAM Schools model, a KIPP program that has operated for a decade in Newark. [emphasis mine]

A little context: TEAM Academy in Newark may be a fine school, but, as Bruce Baker has detailed extensively, it does not serve the same population of students as its neighboring public schools. Like many (most?) "successful" New Jersey charter schools, TEAM is a "successful" charter because it serves fewer poor, non-English speaking, and special needs children. There is also strong evidence it engages in a pattern of student attrition attrition that artificially inflates its test scores.  

This is a nation-wide pattern with KIPP schools. Keep that in mind as we continue:

KIPP ran a charter school in Camden about five years ago, but removed its name from the venture. Ryan Hill, who oversees the TEAM charters in Newark, acknowledged the failure, but said the proposal would be for a different model with different management.

Freedom Academy, the former KIPP school in Camden, has been told by the state Department of Education that it is likely to be shuttered before the beginning of the next school year. [emphasis mine]

Uh, excuse me? KIPP has already run a school into the ground in Camden, but they’re going to get a chance to run another? They are so shameless that they are going to try to run away from their record of failure?

Apparently, KIPP’s CEO, Richard Barth, already backed away in 2009:  

“I Am My Own Man”

“Don’t assume anything because I have a similar last name”.

That’s how Senator Donald Norcross opened his remarks to a group of about 30 Camden citizens at a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon, sponsored by the Friends of Lanning Square School Coalition and the Camden City Education Reform Committee.

Of course, without explicitly saying so, Norcross was referring to the positions held by his brother, South Jersey power broker and education privatization advocate, George Norcross III.

Saturday’s meeting brought together citizens and real reform advocates to discuss the seemingly elusive goal of improving Camden’s public schools at a time when the Governor and his administration seem more interested in lining the pockets of private school entrepreneurs and giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

Senator Norcross tried to put distance between his position and that of his more powerful brother in discussing the path forward. The Senator was promoting the recently signed Urban Hope Act as a way to get a new school built in the Lanning Square area of Camden.

Star Ledger misses the mark on Urban Hope Act

I'm disappointed to see the Star Ledger Editorial Board miss another opportunity to set the record straight on education 'reform'. I've written previously about their lack of fact-checking, as has Blue Jersey staff writer, Jersey Jazzman

Yes, editorials are opinions, but they are not the same as water cooler arguments. In order to have validity, the facts supporting the case being made should be accurate. The Ledger has not done its homework for this piece about The Urban Hope Act. As the state's largest newspaper, they reach millions of people who don't know all the issues surrounding education 'reform'. This piece paints the problems Camden and other poor school districts face with broad and misinformed brush strokes.

Given the current culture of ‘blame the teacher’, it’s easy to see how they place the blame for poor performance on ‘disastrous’ instructional programs. Never mind that Camden St. School isn't even in Camden (it's a special education school in Newark), no child can possibly learn and very few teachers can effectively teach in a high school riddled with crime and violence. However, I’ve never heard of any subject—not even math—being responsible for 249 reported incidents of violence. But I do know that things like homelessness, poverty, gang involvement, abuse, drugs, and parents with a history of criminal behavior are—not to mention drastic cuts to the local police force.


Dear NJEA: You Break It, You Buy It

Last evening, the New Jersey Senate passed the Urban Hope Act by a margin of 53-3:

The charter school pilot bill designates three failing school districts – in Trenton, Camden and Newark – as renaissance school districts. The bill enables one or more nonprofit entities to apply to the state to supplant the existing non-performing schools with a total of four K-12 schools.

“It’s permissive and not mandatory, secondly, and most importantly, this bill gives local control and input into this bill, and that local control is binding,” said state Sen. Nia Gill (D-34).

State Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28) didn’t agree. 

“Amend this legislation to take the City of Newark out,” said Rice. “We can always put Newark in later.”

Unlike Gill, Rice said he does not believe there is sufficient accountability in the bill as it relates to the Brick City.

“My issue is local control,” said the Newark senator. “The difference is local control should be for everybody. Newark doesn’t have local control. You’re saying you want local control for everybody, but the City of Newark. Until we get local control, Newark should not be held hostage at the whim of the legislature here.”

Rice called the bill “taxation without representation”for Newarkers.

The good people of Newark were supposed to be inured to this by now; I guess some in Trenton are still surprised that people in cities might actually want to run their own communities, just like people in the ‘burbs…