A great education starts and ends with great teachers. That’s why when I came to Camden tasked with improving outcomes for kids in a district where under half of students made it to high school graduation and even fewer could read and do math at grade level in grades K-8, we made it our first priority to improve instruction in every classroom. This meant greater support for principals and lots of coaching for teachers. That support required major investments in resources and training to help Camden educators gain new techniques to reach our students. These investments are already showing their return. Thanks to our educators’ hard work, our schools are showing steady improvement in reading and math, and our graduation rate is up by 21 points.
The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act – adopted by the House of Representatives – threaten to undermine the gains made in Camden and many other high-needs districts. Put simply, Title II dollars boost student achievement by furthering the development and retention of highly qualified teachers and principals, and “to provide students from low-income families and minority students with greater access to effective educators.”
In a world where technology changes every day and where the ways in which kids learn are constantly evolving, our most vulnerable students deserve teachers who’ve received the support and development they need to provide excellent classroom instruction every day.
Camden stands to lose dozens of essential teacher and school leader training programs if Title II funds are cut. Last year alone, Title II funded 25 critical and targeted training programs for our educators. With the help of these supports and the work of our teachers and staff, we have begun to see meaningful increases in the number of students reading and doing math at grade level.
We have also cut our suspension rate by more than 50 percent after training all school-based staff on restorative justice and alternative discipline practices. The benefits of Title II funds are wide-reaching. We use them to help keep elementary school students on track with reading, to support special education teachers, and to nurture our school leadership talent.
Additionally, because of Title II funds, we were able to implement a Physics First approach to high school science last year. All the evidence shows that when freshmen take physics, they are better prepared to access complex chemistry and molecular biology later in their academic careers. Through Physics First, we are laying a firm foundation in STEM for our students. By aligning our physics curriculum with algebra teaching, students are now working with the same equations in both classes and can see real world applications of the concepts they are learning in math. The Physics First program is only possible for us because Title II funds allowed our science teachers to obtain their physics accreditation from the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning.
We are far from the only school district to have reaped the benefits of Title II funds. Title II money has been used successfully to recruit, retain, and train great teachers all over the country – especially in the schools where they’re needed most. In a recent policy brief, Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit network of state and district education leaders, highlighted the success of Title II funds in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), for example. DCPS’ Learning together to Advance our Practice (or LEAP) program brings together the district’s teachers for weekly sessions to practice their craft. These sessions help teachers work together to become truly expert at teaching their specific content and curriculum so they can better help students learn challenging, engaging material.
Recognizing that Title II funds help districts like Camden be innovative and flexible in how we support teachers and school leaders, the Senate has thus far resisted cuts to the program. As congressional negotiators come together to finalize a budget, they must put kids first and follow the Senate’s lead.
Paymon Rouhanifard is Superintendent of Camden City School District and a member of the education advocacy coalition Chiefs for Change.