What Does the New Camden Teacher Union President Think About Superintendent Rouhanifard? Hold Onto Your Hat!

Keith Benson, newly-elected President of the Camden Education Association, must be terrified. Over the last five years Camden public schoolchildren increased their graduation rate by 21 percent, up from 49 percent to 70 percent, and their academic growth has outpaced their peers in the rest of the state. Schools are safer. Families are, at last, hopeful about the city school system. And, after a revolving door of superintendents — 13 in the last 20 years — Paymon Rouhanifard, as pointed out recently in the Courier Post,  has “worked alongside our fellow city leaders, parents, community members and countless others to achieve the steady and very real improvement in our education system.”

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way!

All you can do is pity the man.. These improved outcomes for Camden families undermine Benson’s personal ideology, as well as his academic work. The thesis that informs his worldview is that public school reform is a conspiracy among money-grubbing reformers and “oppressed natives” who are afflicted with a “psychosis” that leads them“to improve their own subjugated standing by attempting to join the ranks of those who do the oppressing.”

Seriously. He really wrote that. Camden parents who rejoice at this long-suffering district’s turnaround should know that  the president of the local  teacher union thinks that they’re mentally-ill victims. 

And that wasn’t a one-off. This crazytown gibberish is not an anomaly for Benson but a theme.

Here’s Benson in  a recent editorial in the Courier Post attacking Superintendent Rouhanifard, an Iranian refugee who arrived with his family in America at age five to flee religious persecution: 

  • “Rouhanifard has a history of working against minority communities’ interest in imposing neoliberal and pro-privatization approaches to urban minority communities.”
  • The “Rouhanifard era” represents “test-centric, equity-denying, “no-excuses” charters that are forced onto minority communities exclusively, for low-income children specifically, understaffed and under-resourced public schools, and an expanded perception that Camden’s public schools are inherently inferior places to learn — under the falsehood of “school choice”
  • “The superintendent annually lays off essential school staff by the hundreds…their ranks shaved, nearly to the bone…”
  • All of this was scripted, and all of this was orchestrated, and this is exactly why Rouhanifard was sent to Camden. Not to improve public education for Camden’s children, but to disrupt it, starve it, and finally destroy it….[we] must resist this superintendent for his opportunistic oppression.”

Need more evidence of his paranoia? Here’s a series of tweets between Benson, fellow Rutgers doctoral student Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman), Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker (and possibly Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin, but I wouldn’t know because she’s blocked me):

Dr. Keith E. Benson @KeithEricBenson

Replying to @KeithEricBenson @jerseyjazzman and 3 others

…a small city of under 77,000… could it be that those universities have MAJOR BILLIONAIRE dollars funding their studies from…

Dr. Keith E. Benson @KeithEricBenson

Replying to @KeithEricBenson @jerseyjazzman and 3 others

@WaltonFound and @gatesfoundation … which also are funneling major dollars to Camden promote said charters? Hmmmmm

Dr. Keith E. Benson @KeithEricBenson

Replying to @KeithEricBenson @jerseyjazzman and 3 others

… I mean AGAIN, Camden is a city of less than 77K, and 9sq miles…kinda makes ya wonder why all the interest here regarding ed reformers

Jersey Jazzman @jerseyjazzman

Replying to @KeithEricBenson @SchlFinance101 and 2 others

What’s happened in Camden is no accident – it was PLANNED. And no, this isn’t conspiracy mongering: it’s fact. jerseyjazzman.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-di…

Dr. Keith E. Benson @KeithEricBenson

Replying to @KeithEricBenson @jerseyjazzman and 3 others

PREACH Brother!!

Through Benson’s ideologically-warped lens, the turnaround of Camden Public Schools, accomplished by the twin pillars of choice and accountability, is a victory of oppressors over the oppressed. While I don’t know his field of study at Rutgers, he clearly didn’t take any local history courses.  If he had he might have learned that when Rouhanifard first arrived in Camden in 2014 (the fourth superintendent in two years), New Jersey had just published its list of the state’s 75 lowest-performing schools called “Priority Schools”: Twenty-three of Camden’s 26 schools received that designation, despite an annual per pupil cost of over $25,000. Of all the Camden students who took the SAT the year of Rouhanifard’s appointment, a total of three students achieved a college-ready score.

Would you send your child to that district?  Only if you couldn’t buy your way out. 

Before Rouhanifard arrived, the School Board commissioned an independent Needs Analysis.”  Here’s a sample:

“Despite spending more per pupil than almost any district in the country, Camden schools have failed to serve their students effectively for years. This is not the fault of any individual or group: There are many passionate, hard-working teachers and administrators throughout Camden. But they have been working in a broken system that has lacked effective leadership for too long.”

In sync with this “broken” system, the report continues, “instructional rigor is low across the district. During the [classroom] walkthroughs we conducted, we found that the vast majority of lessons operate at the lowest levels of rigor.”  The school board is, at best, disinterested, and “the policies, systems, processes, and structures needed to educate children in a mid-size urban district are loosely formulated, misaligned, poorly implemented, or simply non-existent.”

This corrupt system is what Benson fights to preserve. The teacher union may be behind him, but if he’s interested in truth rather than ideological purity, he might want to speak to a few parents.

Like Sharell Sharp, who says,

“I have lived in Camden all my life.  I am the product of the Camden School system.  But a few years ago I had no hope.  My daughter was struggling in school and not getting the support she needed.” Once her daughter enrolled in one of the city’s “renaissance” schools, charters that work collaboratively with the district, she “started liking school for the first time and I had hope again…for me and for hundreds of other families who live in Cramer Hill, North Camden and East Camden, this is the most hopeful we have ever been about Camden and our children’s future.”

Or Alicia Rivera, a Camden mother who has a daughter with Down Syndrome. Her child endured eight school transfers among district schools in six years but is now happily enrolled in Mastery, a renaissance school:

“Mastery gave us hope,” she said. “It gave her hope.” Her daughter is thriving, able to read and take piano and photography lessons after school.

I get the insularity of academia. It’s easy to catch what I’ll call here Pomposity Syndrome, a common and contagious affliction of graduate students who, isolated within a clique of fellow travelers (for Benson, the Rutgers’ anti-reform contingent),  lose touch with reality and start believing that their empty, nonsensical, rigid, and — in this case — paranoid arguments have relevance to real-world problems.

And that’s the point, right?  Parents like Ms. Sharp and Ms. Rivera are engaged in a personal and educational battle that has everything to do with schoolchildren. Benson is engaged in an ideological and historically-naive battle that has little to do with schoolchildren.  They are heroic. Him? Not so much.



What do you think?


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