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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chris Cerf Confirmed - What That Means

First of all, no one should be surprised at the outcome; it was inevitable. You shouldn't hold up a nominee just because you don't like the governor, and the Senators understood that.

While some of the issues I've detailed came up, others did not, and that's bothersome. Senator Weinberg  apparently had her fears about what happened to Cerf in NYC allayed, but the fact is we still don't know all the details, and probably never will. Cerf got to claim his tenure at Edison was a success when all indications are it most certainly was not. The Global Education Advisors brouhaha was mentioned but not really explored, most especially as it relates to Eli Broad's influence on the whole thing.

And that's where I wish the senators had spent more time: talking about this push from outside influences on New Jersey toward "choice" and "privatization" with only the flimsiest of evidence to back it up. This push threatens what is arguably the best school system in the country, if not the world; it should not go unchallenged, and it should not be made on the basis faulty research and ideology.

I've been on and on here for a good long while about how there is a pattern of data abuse at the NJDOE. The latest stink about Albert Shanker isn't particularly important in regards to policy, but it's instructive: Cerf twists the facts to match his beliefs, rather than changing his beliefs in the face of the facts.

Another example: not one senator mentioned that Cerf promised a charter school report that looked at student characteristics 507 days ago:

Why hasn't Cerf made this a priority? Probably because he knows that report will fly in the face of his contention that charter schools are a meaningful solution for New Jersey's children. The sad truth is that the things Chris Cerf thinks are so important - charters, seniority, test-based teacher evaluation - will almost certainly do nothing to substantially help this state's children.

Around 60% of a student's achievement in testing outcomes is correlated with student and family characteristics. Maybe 20% is school-based; of that, 10-15% is teacher effect (the rest is error, which tells you a lot about whether making precise personnel decisions based on testing data is very wise). So it is absurd to think we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of children by focusing on classroom instruction without addressing the poverty, inequity, and racism that pervades this state and this nation.

Worse, we actually have a pretty good idea of what will really help children in the schools: small classes, good facilities, a teaching corps treated like professionals, peer review and assessment, experience, and extra resources for the children who need them. Yes, that requires money, but it's not "throwing money down a rat hole" when we help schools help kids. Is there abuse and corruption? Sure - but that isn't an excuse to stop providing the finances we need.

Too often, "reform" is a distraction; it keeps us from having to face hard truths about how we are treating children in the country. We have a national childhood poverty rate of 21%. The schools can certainly help ameliorate that, but it's foolish to think they can do it all.

Unfortunately, both Chris Cerf and Chris Christie represent a position that distracts us from facing this unpleasant fact. They act as if teacher seniority or charter authorization were the dominant issues for children in New Jersey. Christie yells and stamps his feet about unions, while Cerf smoothly assures us charters are a serious solution. And too many folks who should know better nod their heads and agree.

Well, folks, it's up to us to keep them honest. I will continue to point out the mendacity and hypocrisy and sometimes just plain stupidity I see coming from the reformyists, whether here in Jersey or around the nation. I am proud and humble to include myself with the folks at the blogroll on the left, and with many others, who will not stop calling out the arguments of those people who would keep us from doing what is really best for our children.

During the hearing, Chairman Scutari said he felt that Cerf was "snow jobbing" him over his residency; he felt that Cerf was giving him spin instead of a straightforward answer. It's that tendency to spin that binds together much of the reformy movement: that refusal to seriously confront the challenge of educating all of our students head on.

I don't much care what Cerf has to say about his residence, but I'm going to be calling him out whenever he spins the data on charters, or teacher evaluations, or testing, or school funding, or anything else. So stay tuned - the Jazzman has just been warming up.

ACTING Commissioner Chris Cerf


mikedad97 said...

Two things I just don't get --

1. why did no one call him out when he said he was "suspicious of for-profit entities"


2. why do so many of us keep our heads in the sand??

jfm14 said...

Great blog today Jazzman. A level-headed report and a subtle call to action. Thank you.

I will continue to fight for the public school children of NJ. The governor and commissioner need to remember, it is about the kids.

Thanks for pointing out the poverty rate of children - almost one quarter - Wow! How can those kids learn effectively in those circumstances?

If Christie would stop stomping his feet and Cerf stop thinking the world revolves around him, we should be able to make our schools better. It is not teacher tenure or merit pay or how much we can test our kids - it is about parental involvement and giving teachers the ability to share resources and ideas with each other that will make our schools even better. Instead of scaring them into keeping their ideas for themselves, we can do so much more if they work together. In the end though, as you imply, kids will not improve or excel without a focus on education at home and a good meal each day.

And, if you have just been warming up, I cannot wait to read your future blogs!

Duke said...

Mike, I don't know. It was a civil exchange and that's as it should be but I thought there was too much focus on things like his address and Elizabeth's school board. Those are important, but not as important as pulling back the curtain on privatization.

jfm, that poverty rate is national. 42% of Newark's kids live below the poverty line; 74% live below 130% of that line (about $29K for a family of 4). I never, ever hear Christie or Cerf mention this.

Thx you both for posting.

Charters4Ever said...

So what did happen to Senator Weinberg, Crusader of Transparency and Truth? Is she going to move forward with her Cerf OPRA requests that she proudly stated on Blue Jersey? Or is that all a part of the past now?