Who Chooses Charter Schools?
By Del Stover
It’s not hard to understand why Marlene Gonzalez decided to take her son out of the Camden, N.J., school system. Young Christian was safe enough in his neighborhood elementary school, but his mother kept hearing of low test scores, student bullying, and occasional violence in the city middle and high schools he’d eventually be expected to attend.
Meanwhile, she’d heard talk of a charter school with an eight-hour school day and 200-day school year program that promoted extensive after-school activities, support for families, a safe and orderly school environment, smaller class sizes, and a goal of a 100 percent graduation rate and college placement for all.
It was just the educational setting Gonzalez wanted for her son. So she applied to the LEAP Academy University Charter School. After four years on its waiting list, she got the call for Christian to enroll-- and not a minute too soon, in her mind.
“One of my worries was him going into middle school,” she says. “The schools within Camden are tough.”
Not just tough-- but troubled. With a high unemployment rate and an average household income of less than half of the state average, Camden is a profoundly poor and struggling city-- and its schools pay the price for the social woes that surround its children. Take Camden High, for example, which once was named one of the most “persistently dangerous” schools in New Jersey. More than 60 percent of its students never graduate, and only 42.6 percent test as proficient on the state’s high school language arts exam, while only 19.4 percent score as well on the math exam.
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