I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Education Kleptocracy

If you have any doubt as to why the corporate reformers are pushing their agenda, follow along with this little twisted tale. We'll start with some of today's news about our boy, Acting NJDOE Commissioner and pal to the super rich, Chris Cerf:
TRENTON — A private consultant is being paid $60,000 by a California philanthropic foundation to help reorganize the New Jersey Department of Education, acting education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said during today’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing.
Asked by Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Hudson) if the department had hired such a consultant, Cerf said he was working with someone on a part-time basis, describing the man as a "friend" who is "very well respected" in education reform circles across the country.
After the hearing, Cerf confirmed the adviser is William Cox, who owns consulting company DSA Capital, state Treasury records show.
The Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation is paying DSA Capital to lead a team of consultants and produce "a high-level plan" for the Department of Education, DSA’s three-month contract shows.
Cerf is a 2004 graduate of the Broad Foundation’s superintendent’s academy, and it is common practice for the foundation to financially support its own as they transition to new leadership roles, DOE spokesman Alan Guenther said. [emphasis mine]
It ain't what ya know, it's who ya know. Remember:
But it gets better. The Record picks up a connection the S-L missed:
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation website says the philanthropy had over $2.2 billion in 2009 and it “seeks to dramatically transform American urban public education so that all children receive the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, careers and life.” It runs the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems and the Broad Superintendents Academy, where Cox taught and Cerf studied leadership. 
Cox said in an interview he has known Cerf for years, and the foundation thought Cox could help him in his new position. [emphasis mine]
This is Cerf's m.o. - he works his network, and everyone gets their back scratched. He's been doing it for years.

But it gets even better than this. The S-L continues:
Thinking critically about the Department of Education’s structure and capacity is important, said Bruce Baker, an associate professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education. But Baker questioned Cox’s credentials to lead such an effort. 
"Why wouldn’t they draw up an RFP and bid this to the major firms that do this stuff, recognized firms?" Baker said. "Our public agencies and those who draw on the public dollar have an obligation to be transparent."
The professor asks a good question: why would Cerf bring this guy in? What's his background anyway?

The Record knows:
Cox has years of experience scrutinizing school systems. He said he worked as an analyst at Standard & Poor’s for 21 years, often focusing on public sector enterprises. He led a project called School Evaluation Services, launched in 2001 to assess schools’ finances, demographics and performance nationwide under a grant from the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education. 
He became a managing director at Standard & Poor’s, and did work restructuring businesses. After leaving that company in 2008, he founded DSA Capital, a business strategy firm. [emphasis mine]
You know who owns Standard and Poor's? McGraw-Hill.

The teachers reading this blog just had their jaws drop to the floor; yes, it's THAT McGraw-Hill, the extremely well-known textbook and standardized test publisher. The same McGraw-Hill that is right in the middle of the DC testing scandal that calls into question the claims of former superintendent and corporate-reform supermodel Michelle Rhee.

But, yes, it really does get even better than that! Because what did Chris Christie just announce as part of his education "reform" plan?
Measures of Student Achievement Recognizing the Importance and Limitations of Test Scores. Fifty percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation should be based on direct measures of student achievement as demonstrated by assessments and other evaluations of student work.  This would be compromised of two required components and one optional component. The largest required component would be an individual teacher’s contribution to his or her students’ progress on a statewide assessment.  However, the other required component would take into consideration other factors that impact a student’s growth, including school-wide performance and specific student circumstances. Additionally, districts would be permitted to choose one or more optional measures of student achievement from a list of state-approved measures.  Such measures might include student performance on nationally-normed assessments or State-mandated end-of-course tests. [underline emphasis mine]
In other words: the standardized test will be the determining factor in teacher evaluation. But wait: only 10% to 20% of teachers could be evaluated currently on standardized tests - we only use them for Grades Three through Eight, and only in certain subjects. Wouldn't we have to develop a whole new raft of standardized tests to evaluate as much of the teaching corps as possible?

That certainly seems to be what Derrell "The Freman" Bradford - a (highly unqualified) member of Chris Christie's Education Effectiveness Task Force - seemed to be saying in this Twitter exchange:
stopthefreezeNJ DEFEND NJ PUBLIC ED!

Hey @Dyrnwyn, you guys got merit pay for gym teachers and inclusion specialists worked out yet?

Dyrnwyn Derrell Bradford
@stopthefreezeNJ working on assessments for them too. Teachers will be evaluated, fairly. And when I say teachers, I mean all of them.
So, let's recap: Acting NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf is using billionaire Eli Broad's money to bring in William Cox as a consultant. Cox worked for years for a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill, a huge standardized testing provider. Cox comes in, and soon after Gov. Chris Christie announces his support for basing teacher evaluations on those same standardized tests. And Christie's hand-picked appointee to his task force on teacher evaluations confirms that assessments are coming to cover the many teachers whose students' work cannot yet be judged by this standardized test.

This is, in a word, disgusting. It reeks of back room deals and feeding at the public trough. It is the shaping of policy to enrich government contractors, as far away from the elected representatives of the people as possible.

I'll keep saying it as long as the evidence all points to it: corporate America got fat on our military, and they are coming after our schools next. Halliburton High is the logical outcome of this new education kleptocracy.

ADDING: Oh my goodness gracious - the stuff this guy Cox has been up to. I mean, wow (an article by RiShawn Biddle no less!). We'll be talking more, folks...


Anonymous said...

They've already privatized most of the cafeterias in our schools. And have you seen the crap they are serving our kids? Why do the serve that? It's because it's cheap and good for their bottom line while the kids get obese. And the government is complacent and culpable because they allow it and passed ridiculous standards like potatoes count as a vegetable. What happened to the days when the lunch staff actually cooked? Well, when it doesn't turn a profit, buy in bulk, reheat it and move product. Ultimately, the testing is just the same story in a different part of the school building.

jcg said...

You're right, Jazzman. My jaw dropped at the Standard & Poors- McGraw-Hill connection.

This education industrial complex is a cacophony of cronyism.

jcg said...

Anonymous, Yes the pre-packaged crap in the cafeterias is our subsidy to AgriBusiness and food distributors. The school board in TN riffed the cafeteria ladies years ago- even their crummy salaries were too expensive.

I was in an inner city High school in Knoxville,TN yesterday and they've been sold on the concept that eating meals in classrooms is a way to end student tardies. (Remember-It's for the kids...)
The backstory is it's cheaper to send prepackaed poptarts to classrooms than to cook real food in a cafeteria.

Remember marketing is our new reality in education.