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, August 2, 2012

NJDOE Coup d'Etat Continues

If you had any doubts about the autocratic tendencies of Commissioner Chris Cerf and the NJ Education Department, this news should put them to rest:



July 31, 2012
In response to a request under the NJ Open Public Records Act (OPRA), Education Law Center has obtained a confidential proposal prepared for the Broad Foundation by the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to “turnaround,” take control, and potentially close over 200 public schools over the next three years. 
NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf submitted a draft “School Turnaround Proposal” to the Eli Broad Foundation in November 2011, seeking to secure millions in grant funds from the private, Los Angeles-based foundation. The draft formed the basis of a final proposal, submitted February 2012, requesting $7.6 million in grant funds.
The proposals provide new details on NJDOE plans to aggressively “intervene” in schools recently designated as “priority” and “focus” schools based mostly on low test scores, including:
  • reallocation of $24 million per year in NJDOE funds and “repurposing” of 166 employees to seven Regional Achievement Centers (RAC) to direct “advanced interventions” in the targeted schools; 
  • proposed legislation eliminating NJ's district monitoring statute, known as the Quality School Accountability Continuum (QSAC);
  • creation of an “Achievement School District” (ASD) – based on a “recovery district” model borrowed from post-Katrina New Orleans – in which schools are placed under the direct control of the Commissioner with the following conditions:
    • no possible appeal by school or district of placement in ASD;
    • suspension of existing collective bargaining agreements;
    • turning over management of schools to private charter or Education Management Organizations (EMO), with the EMO controlling all personnel decisions upon takeover;
    • returning the state operated districts (Newark, Jersey City and Paterson) to “local control” within four years, but keeping some schools in those districts in the ASD;
    • taking State control of any district with more than 40% low-performing “priority schools;”
    • closing schools that don't show enough improvement after two years.
The final proposal says that “direct interventions” will “reach approximately 253 schools and almost 185,000 students” and begin “as early as the fall of 2012.” [emphasis mine]
First things first: we all need to thank ELC for doing what they do. I don't think we'd know anything about what is really happening to New Jersey's public schools were it not for these folks, which is why Chris Christie himself goes after ELC's staff personally with such venom.

Cerf's has stated the plan is for the county superintendents to report "up" to the RACs, even though the  superintendents are written into statute and the RACs are not. But the fact that they haven't bothered to staff the superintendents offices tells they really want to do away with the positions altogether, staff the RACs with like-minded folks, and have everyone report directly to the Broadies at the NJDOE. Goodbye local control; good-bye legislative oversight.

It's telling that at his confirmation hearing, Cerf said the attempt to put a virtual charter school in Teaneck - which would have cost the taxpayers there $15 million - was "not our finest hour." Given the uproar over the past year against charters in the 'burbs, they've obviously made the decision that they can't take local control away from the suburban school boards (yet) without inflicting serious political damage on the administration.

Senator Loretta Weinberg tried to get Cerf to state that they are backing away from the suburbs, and, while couching his words very carefully, he pretty much did. Millburn and Cherry Hill can breath easy - but only for the moment.

The 'burbs will also have cookies thrown their way every now and then in the form of being designated as "reward schools." It's a cheap trick: the schools in the Jersey 'burbs get to feel like they're being acknowledged for doing the superb job they've always done, while the decimation of public education begins in the urban areas. Does anyone think, however, that it will stop there?

Let me say something to all the teachers and parents in the suburbs: you're fooling yourself if you think this is going to stop at the borders of the cities. The Michael Petrillis of the reformy world have been eyeing the suburban Republican political base for some time, hoping that the entrenched moderate conservatives in those leafy streets can be persuaded to give up their superior school systems (the primary reason young families move to the 'burbs in the first place) for some vague notion of "choice."

But the Broadies at the NJDOE have now learned not to overreach. The new plan is to first turn the cities over to direct control of the state, and change them into one big, centrally controlled system like New Orleans. Diane Ravitch tells us how well that's working out:
One of the news stories says that Cerf wants to use New Orleans “recovery school district” as a model for New Jersey, but I wonder if he knows that 79% of the charters in New Orleans were graded either D or F by the state, and that New Orleans ranked 69th of 70 districts in the entire state.
How long can this shell game go on?
I understand that the people in the Abbott districts (the poorest cities where the lowest-performing schools are) may be accustomed to getting pushed around by the state, but how will the people of New Jersey feel about Christie and Cerf bringing in a raft of charter school operators to privatize what used to be their public schools? [emphasis mine]
It's become clear that many people don't like it; that's why the state needs to hang on to control of the urban districts as much as it can. But the NJDOE also wants those RACs to be set up throughout the state, not just in their "recovery" district. Mark my words: they are not going to settle for just taking over 253 schools. No, the endgame is much larger than that.

Because if they can destroy the unions and turn schools over to private management in the largest districts in New Jersey, they certainly won't hesitate to try it again in the 'burbs. That's why everyone with an interest in keeping New Jersey's schools the best in the nation needs to be aware of what's happening in the cities.

Autocrats are never happy unless they are expanding their spheres of influence; Cerf and his band of Broadies are no different. They will push and push and push to get their way in Newark and Jersey City and Camden and Paterson...

But they won't stop there. Count on it.


Regan said...

I teach in Newark, and I love it. The way things are going, though, makes me sad. I feel a little sick to my stomach. The career I chose is no longer the career I have. I find myself, at 42, wishing I was closer to 62. Also, I fear for my kids' public school educations, out here in Rockaway, NJ. This is so pathetic.

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