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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Problems With Chris Cerf: A Summary

Tomorrow, ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Cerf will finally have his long-overdue confirmation hearing. In anticipation, I've put out a good deal of reporting this week about Cerf's career and his reign at the NJDOE.

For me, it all comes down to three things (click through each link for all the details):

1) Cerf plays fast and loose with standards of ethics and transparency. He made a sweetheart deal for himself while at Edison Learning using money from the Florida teachers pension fund, but ran into an ethics investigation while at the NYCDOE when he held stock even as the city had a contract with Edison. The report on his behavior is highly redacted; he has never told the full story of the deal.

He led a "truth squad" that leaked information to allies in the press to counter critics of his bosses. He was involved in a scandal early in his New Jersey tenure when he changed his story about a report his old firm wrote that sought to radically remake Newark's schools. He has used private money to hire NJDOE employees and write secret reports with little transparency or public input. Under his watch, school officials aligned with the controversial Broad "Academy" - of which he is a graduate - have spread across the state, even as he denies his involvement. He seemingly retains the ability to deny requests for public records, even on appeal.

It is a disturbing pattern; a pattern of regularly refusing to live up to the highest ideals of transparency and ethics.

2) Cerf has accrued too much power to himself. He has taken actions to retain state control over several urban districts, without the slightest indication of moving them toward autonomy. He has overseen the installation of superintendents with like-minded views over the objections of local citizens while continually claiming he is not involved in their appointments. 

Cerf has moved charter schools away from local boards and toward control by outside organizations. He has thwarted attempts by local districts that neither need nor want charter schools to gain oversight powers, even while demanding the citizens of these districts fund charters against their will. He is attempting to subvert the oversight function of county-wide districts - districts written into NJ law - with centers staffed by and accountable only to him. And again, he uses private money to achieve many of these objectives.

Even if he is confirmed, Cerf was never elected. This is far too much power for an appointed bureaucrat to control.

3) He misrepresents research, data, and facts to push his policies. He touts charter schools "successes" while ignoring the very real issue that "successful" charter schools in New Jersey are less likely to educate children in poverty, children who are Limited English Proficient, and children with special needs than neighboring public schools.

Cerf downplays the effects of poverty on student achievement. He pushes "reforms" that have little or no research to support them. He denigrates New Jersey's schools, some of the best in the nation, and ignores the significant progress the state has made on educating poor and minority children. He calls for the use of test scores in teacher evaluations in ways that are wholly inappropriate and ignore commonly accepted research.

Cerf shows all the signs of being an ideologue: a man who changes the facts to support his positions instead of changing his positions when confronted with the facts.

I can't say whether Cerf will be confirmed tomorrow. But he must be thoroughly vetted. He must be made to answer for his actions, statements, and beliefs.

And, if he is confirmed, he must be held accountable for any injury he and Chris Christie bring to New Jersey's outstanding public schools. I and my fellow teachers and parents will be watching him very carefully.


Galton said...

Exceedingly well done, I'm guessing T.M. over at the S.L. is quite jealous of the reporting you have done.
Thank you

Duke said...

Yeah, somehow I don't think he worries about me that much. ;-)

As always, Galton, thx for commenting and reading. I always appreciate your insights here.