And we’re back! Happy New Year!

I’ve been playing a lot of basketball over break. As a former D1 basketball player, that comes with some reflection about my own competitive nature. But it’s also come with some curiosity about how this “competition” narrative really works within our Camden education system. With the new Camden Enrollment System opening up, the district is facing a distinct challenge. It’s created a new system (relatively – similar to universal enrollment that emphasizes competition in New Orleans or Newark) that pits schools against one another in the attempt to attract students. The stakes are high, because there are obviously more schools and seats approved than will be needed, meaning down the line those schools that struggle to attract students will close. In the midst of this, the District has a difficult choice to make. Is it an advocate and representative for the Camden School District schools which are engaged in this competition? Or is it a referee, leaving these schools to compete on their own? And if it’s a referee, can it keep its thumb off the scale?

Thumb on Scale Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times I’ve been watching this competition up close. As a Camden resident, I’m routinely getting fliers offering open houses from charter schools (none from our traditional public schools — I’ll come back to that). My social media accounts are targets for ads of the same, with some offering small gift cards for attendance (but none from the School District, or individual district schools). 

CCCS Wawa Gift Card

To the District’s credit, they’ve acknowledged that district schools are at a disadvantage when it comes to this competition and allocated a small amount of money for schools to create a recruitment video and increase social media presence. I expected to hear some frustration at this, but at one school I asked I heard excitement — they felt for so long they were unable to trumpet their accomplishments that they appreciated these resources to do so, even if they felt disappointment that the district wasn’t standing up for them directly and ultimately feel the district will promote an expansion of charters and Renaissance schools. 

Therein lie the bigger, systematic questions about the District’s role in a competitive enrollment system. It’s clear from the public relations of schools in the charter and Renaissance sector that their entire organizations are built to promote and support their product. It’s equally clear that this is not what the Camden School District does with district schools. It is impossible to imagine a charter management organization standing up at a public meeting and promoting that a renaissance school be turned over to the district. But last spring the Camden School District had no problem standing up and advising parents that the best option was to convert Camden District Schools into Renaissance Schools. 

This is at the heart of the “false competition” between schools in Camden. On one side are charters which advocate, and sometimes exaggerate, their prowess. They are fierce about protecting their schools and expanding their models. The Camden School District is not. The higher level district staff largely comes from the reform community which is skeptical of traditional public schools. Teachers, principals and administrators at schools don’t have an infrastructure behind them to promote their accomplishments and attract students. Instead, they have an organization behind them controlled by a state office that prefers charters and Renaissance schools to traditional public schools. In another universe, one that truly believed in fair competition, advocates of traditional public education would be running the Camden School District. They’d be proudly promoting their schools, sticking up for them, and fighting like hell when they were at risk of being taken over (just like any charter management organization would). But we don’t live in that world. 

Instead, we live in a world where the Camden School District plays the role of being the “referee” of this system, while individual schools are left to attract students on their own. Their role is to ensure that the system is fair, not promote the schools they run on a day-to-day basis.

There is plenty of evidence that anyone playing in this competition should be shocked at the rules: I’ve highlighted before the absurdity of only supporting modern buildings for new schools, or the potential trouble with backfilling or attrition rules being different for different schools (or, for those more entrenched in the charter sector, the different in per-student payments between charters and renaissance schools). But, the players in this game know the refereeing isn’t so hot either. In my previous post on the Camden Enrollment System (which was cautiously optimistic), I highlighted the heartbreak of a local activist who couldn’t believe that a single class of 8th graders at a Mastery Middle School was considered enough “demand” to open a new high school (tangent: now Mastery is opening a high school and Democracy Prep already has, how many high schools can Camden support?). If this was an objective bar, is there any doubt that similar demand for keeping open some of the closed schools (particularly McGrath, which had a parental protest, quite a few parental signatures, and relatively good test scores) existed? 

As a competitor, I understand the frustration of playing in such a system. It’s like playing for a coach who recruits for the other team. It must be hard to see a superintendent actively out promoting a system of choice, then watch him recommend other schools, not the ones he is in charge of. How disheartening to see fliers for other schools, such as KIPP or Camden Community Charter School, and know that your bosses won’t promote your school to the public, but will actively recruit other schools to replace yours if your enrollment is low. How profoundly uncompetitive to set up such an unequal system, then claim that traditional public schools need to be closed and converted when the administration never intended to defend the schools it was running. 

This is my fear with the new Camden Enrollment System. It’s just another way for a group of unelected administrators to put their thumb on the scale, while claiming the merits of competition.



  • Not So Fast!
    Camden District Schools are in the game too. There are schools in the district that are actively seeking students to attend their school just as much as the next district school, just as much as the next charter school.

    I find that this writing is not only showcasing and enabling a ever-so-familiar pessimistic attitude of a generation that anticipates immediate responses & results, but it is also the same type of context that is responsible for the irresponsible miseducation of forced intellectuals (students), not to mention offensive.

    With all due respect to Assistant Professor Stephen Danley\’s accolades in his academic, educational, & professional career. I would like to chalk this up to personal opinion, poor topic research, & lack of digestion of what actually are the positive reinforcements of this quote unquote, competition.

    To Mr. Danley\’s credit the thumb on the scale idiom expresses a great conversation that refers to the practice of taking advantage of someone by typically covert means, possibly utilizing resources not necessarily wrong, but have unfair & unknown advantages to others. Yet this also is murky footing for a weak argument if you don\’t express what is at stake.

    What is Camden Enrollment gaining by having its thumb on the scale? In which case Danley expresses in the first portion that \”stakes are high\” but then skates to school closings. Which than shifts the attention from the actual \”Camden Enrollment\” (should we call it a program) being the bad guy, or as Danley refers to the referee with his thumb on the scale, to the Charter Schools being the culprit. Which I find ironic! (More detail to come) And if the Charter is the culprit, referee, or bad guy it then makes sense what is at stake, Schools keeping afloat. Especially when a Charter has the alleged access to carelessly allocate funds to advertise enrollment through ads both on TV and in print only to sink Camden City Public Schools.

    (Here is the Irony)
    It is comical to see what Rutgers\’ professionals, the ideological big brother/ big sister of an a neighborhood that relies heavily upon educational influence thinks about this elbow to the face type alleged quarrel between institutions that should be primarily should be just focused & interested in promoting the welfare of the communities\’ youth through education.

    Especially in this particular publication in this particular location, Matter of fact one would think that if such relations may exist between big brother/sister, Rutgers State University & Camden District Schools that this conversation & publication instead would be one offering some sort of resource to the underdog, Camden District Schools.

    Instead you find such language like \”To the District’s credit, they’ve acknowledged that district schools are at a disadvantage when it comes to this competition and allocated a small amount of money for schools to create a recruitment video and increase social media presence\”- written above.

    Nope, no use in waiting for Big Brother, Big Sister Rutgers University located in Camden since 1950(?) to help original existing districts stay afloat, nope, none of that, no brainstorming, no nothing of solutions. Instead we have the miseducation of forced intellectuals asked to join this wonky discussion where pessimism is being passed on like old poverty, despicable.

    My frustration stems from the recent time I\’ve been spending in one of the Camden City District Public Schools. In these public schools most students are not worried about competition between the others. In fact it often that students that attend different schools within the city play for the same sports team. So imaging what competition could exist if the students are not even in competition and infant more unified than ever.

    It brings up many concerns that this confirmation of the referee\’s thumb existing and whose thumb it might be, are possibly all for a cause that has no purpose. If Charters are attempting to close industry down on City Schools by sucking funding through enrollment numbers maybe in fact Charters has taken a few notes from Big brother/sister\’s Rutgers- (dash) Camden\’s notebook.

    Either way don\’t we think schools should be closed based off of test scores not enrollment. Again as an insider my personal opinion as to why enrollment is higher in some city schools than others is on reflected upon student behavior. If a student is not willing to comply with rules or structure like many professionals of the district have explained to be routine at schools like Hatch, Wilson, Camden High then going to a charter school is out of the question anyways.

    Lets focus on the behaviors of the students first: attendance, peer respect, authority respect, est. & I\’m sure the test scores will follow.

    Overall Camden Enrollment I find that it is working as an incentive to developing young adults. Building guidelines to abide by in order to receive acceptance in to the school of their preference & suggest a little more research is put into your work before you spark any existing relations within the communities.

    • Can there be a marketing team from Rutgers made up from students, interested in building their portfolios, that visit the schools interested in putting a competitive campaign video together for the schools. Can that be though of Camden District Schools having their thumb on the scale such as charters do with the wawa gift card. In fact any schools that may be interested in having such support that read this blog I suggest you reach out by sending an email to where I personally will put together for free a team that help promote your school to the community.

    • Wow, so many good perspectives were brought to surface through this response ! It excites me that there is someone else out there that believes that Rutgers could do more to help the cit,y besides offering a platform to just have these conversations.

  • Dr. Danley! You knocked this one out of the ballpark (or basketball court). I know that no one is running around handing out flyers about the building where I teach at Camden High. Day after day, I teach in a tiny classroom that is so overheated it has to be experienced to be believed. Today, a very pregnant teenager in my class had sweat beads on her face. Yesterday, a boy with asthma entered my classroom, clutched his chest, and asked me to summon help for him. After all, September is approaching fast (!) and priority #1 is manning the hotlines and pounding the pavement to get Camden’s students enrolled in a charter/Renaissance school. This is unconscionable.

  • The district schools are like a hamster on the wheel…spinning and spinning and spinning in an attempt to get beyond where they are placed at the start, while the charter and renaissance schools have four wheels, an engine, free gas for life and a place twenty yards ahead of the district ! The game plan is obvious…as is the outcome. Very disconcerting. Please watch this carefully. I believe it’s going to get ugly!

    • What do you think about Rutgers stepping in to assist district schools with marking through router’s student based projects? Especially since it has a prevalent history in the neighborhood.

  • This “competition” is rigged in other ways as well.

    The Christie Administration’s Camden Superintendent and his team have attached labels to the local public schools on the Camden Enrollment page, with many labeled “under performing” or “needs improvement.”

    There are no explanations for how those labels were determined and whether the criteria used were appropriate, fair or accurate.

    The renaissance schools do not have labels, presumably because they are too new to be rated.

    So, what parents see when they go to the selection page is public schools described as inadequate and renaissance charters with no information available about quality.

    Hmmm. Even playing field?

    This seems like another very concerted effort to destroy any community support for the local public schools.

    A dictatorship uses this kind of misinformation and propaganda and that, unfortunately, is what we have in Camden.

    • Can we look up scores from last year for the city of Camden compared to other schools in the state, and then reasonably argue a defense for schools that are getting 0-5% proficient? As an educator, you have to be accountable for the influence you have on the trajectory of the children you serve. You have to appreciate the responsibility that comes with being a “teacher” or an “administrator”. Is it unfair to the school to show that their results are inadequate, or is it unfair to the children and families served if we don’t?

  • Example of the gift card game: Camden Community Charter offered $15 gift certificates to Wawa to attend an info session. (Promoted via sponsored Facebook post!) Camden Community Charter is run by a for-profit Charter Management Organization.

    Since these charters are “public schools,” that means taxpayer money is going to fund some pretty tacky used-car-salesmanesque advertisements, that ultimately benefit a for-profit school management company.

    Will district schools have to add “Advertising & Marketing” into their annual budgets in order to keep up with the Jonses?

    (Fun fact: there are no Wawas in Camden!)

    • What do you say about the students that enjoyed the backstage experience & learning components of the advertisements they were apart of.

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