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, July 24, 2012

The Problems With Chris Cerf

ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is finally going to have his confirmation hearing this Thursday, well over a year after Chris Christie appointed him to the job. I've followed Cerf's career closely over this time, and I have some serious reservations about his appointment.

It boils down to three things:

1) Too often, Chris Cerf plays fast and loose with standards of ethics and transparency.

2) Too often, Chris Cerf has been an autocrat, accruing power over New Jersey's schools to himself.

3) Too often, Chris Cerf has twisted research and data to justify policies that will not serve New Jersey's children well.

I will break these three down in separate posts; for now, let me give just one brief example of each:

1) Cerf playing fast and loose with ethics: Before he began his career in public school administration in New York City, Chris Cerf was president of Edison Learning, a private, for-profit education consultancy with a pretty lousy track record. When the stock price of Edison tanked, Cerf and CEO Chris Whittle engineered a buyout, which they financed with funds from the Florida teachers pension. Jeb Bush, governor at the time and a big proponent of school privatization, helped make the questionable deal happen.

Cerf's share of Edison after the deal was valued in the millions. And he kept his interest in the company even after he took a job in the New York City Department of Education; and yes, Edison did have a contract with NYCDOE at the time. Cerf finally divested himself of the stock twenty-four hours before he was about to be questioned by parents groups abut his interest.

But the story goes even further: Cerf attempted to extract a donation to a favored charity from Edison in lieu of his stock, a clear violation of city law. Investigators said so in a report, but that report, when finally released through a Freedom Of Information Law request, was highly redacted:

In fairness, the stock by that point may well have been worthless. But Cerf was not straight about the deal, his part in it, or the subsequent attempt to get a donation from Edison. He has never given a full account of this story, and has never, as far as I know, released the financial documents related to the incident.

2) Cerf as an autocrat: Newark's schools have been under state control since 1995, and there is no apparent plan to put them back under local control. Governor Chris Christie appointed Cami Anderson as the superintendent of Newark's schools; Anderson has pushed through a controversial program of charter school expansion and public school closure.

The advisory board, which consists of elected representatives, passed a resolution rejecting the leasing of public school facilities to five charter schools. Anderson overrode that decision and allowed the leases to go through. But at the same time, Cerf released the state's evaluation of the governance of Newark's schools. The district actually went backwards in its rating, making local control less likely in the future.

In other words: Christie's appointed superintendent has actually moved Newark further away from control of its own schools, and Cerf is the official who used the district's poor scores under that superintendent to justify retaining control.

There is plenty of evidence that Cerf is not interested in moving Jersey City, Paterson, or Camden toward self-rule either.

3) Cerf's abuse of research: Cerf often extolls the virtues of charter schools, claiming "charter schools on average across the state are outperforming other district options for students in high-need communities." Yet the evidence is overwhelmingly clear"successful" charter schools tend to have fewer children in poverty, fewer children who don't speak English at home, and fewer children with special needs than neighboring public schools.

Recently, Cerf invoked Albert Shanker to justify his support of charters. But as noted education historian Diane Ravitch proved, Shanker would never have supported Cerf's charter policies;  even Shanker's family has said so explicitly. Cerf apparently makes claims with little care for their truth.

I wish I could say these are the only examples of Cerf having ethical lapses, accruing power to himself, or misrepresenting research and facts. Unfortunately, there's more; stand by...

1 comment:

Galton said...

Well documented and presented.
However, Joey D. , Brian S., Steve A, and Handsome George will call on their puppets to fall in line and support Governor Christie's lackey.

Did Ron Rice relent, or did Cerf go through Bateman via the bogus residency?

Thank you for the coverage.