CAMDEN, NJ — Camden students have shown significant improvements in math proficiency, a new independent study has found. Additionally, students in city charter and renaissance schools outperformed those in the traditional public schools in reading and math over the studied three-year period.
Released Monday, the study from the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) looked at student academic growth in the various K-12 schools on a year-by-year basis from 2014-15 to 2016-17.
Schools superintendent Katrina McCombs said the study confirms that students benefitted from the district's "collaborative and focused efforts over the last five years."
"This rigorous independent study demonstrates that citywide, student performance has improved since 2014. We applaud the educators, families, and community leaders for this progress and thank them for their commitment to our students," McCombs said in a statement. She was appointed to head the state-run district in April, and served in an acting role since June 2018.
The report noted that while Camden students overall showed "weaker learning gains compared to the state average gains in reading" over the period analyzed, performance in math "caught up" in 2015-16 after falling behind the first year.
The study noted in particular that charter and renaissance schools — neighborhood schools that are operated independently like charters yet funded by the district — demonstrated gains that met or exceeded the state average in math and reading.
The study indicates that students at the city's three renaissance networks (KIPP Cooper Norcross, Uncommon Schools, and Mastery Schools) surpassed their peers statewide in terms of annual growth in both subject areas.
Compared with state averages, city renaissance school students received the equivalent of an additional 45 days of learning in reading and an additional 65 days of learning in math.
The district also noted that the renaissance schools "exceeded statewide growth for all subgroups studied, including black students, Hispanic students, students in poverty, special education students, English language learners, male students, and female students."
Authorized under the Urban Hope Act in 2012 by former Gov. Chris Christie, the hybrid charter schools were sought as a means of education reform for three cities: Camden, Newark, and Trenton.
In a statement, the district said students in Camden "are learning much more each year than they were just a few years ago."
Students are receiving the equivalent of nearly an additional 85 days of learning in math and 30 days in reading "relative to the state average, compared (with) the 2014-2015 school year," the district said.
“The work of turning around a school district is slow and challenging. While no one study can tell the whole story of what’s happening in schools, CREDO gives empirical evidence that the District is moving in the right direction,” said Min. Wasim Muhammad, Camden City School District Advisory Board member. "The fact that all three sectors of Camden’s education landscape - district, charter, and renaissance - are making progress shows that the district’s leadership is ensuring that a rising tide is lifting all boats.”
Schools spokesperson Dan Keashen pointed to progress made since 2011-12 — one year prior to state takeover — a point in which the entire district had only three college-ready students.
At that time, 23 out of 26 city schools were in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state, he said.
“The district’s commitment to equitably serving all students is yielding real results,” said Mayor Frank Moran. “They are proving that you can provide more high quality choices for families and improve outcomes for students who have traditionally been most underserved.”
Enrollment in Camden renaissance schools was estimated at about 4,780 students for the upcoming 2019-20 year. About 4,370 students are expected to attend charter schools. The traditional public schools will serve about 6,060 students.
Stanford researchers in the "City Studies Project" measured academic performance in 11 districts across the country.
The other cities involved in the study were Baton Rouge, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, St. Louis, San Antonio, and Washington, DC.