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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chris Cerf: Political Animal

Ken Libby publishes an email trail that ought to interest all New Jersey educators. The exchange is between NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf and Leadership for Educational Equity, the emerging political arm of Teach For America.

TFA likes to pretend it is a teacher recruiting program, giving a whopping five weeks of training to its members before sending them off to the hardest teaching assignments. What's become clear is that TFA is really a political organization: after two or three years of actual teaching, its alumni then go on to positions as elected or appointed officials at the district-, state-, and local-level.

Hence the rise of LEE. Undoubtedly, they look upon Cerf - who has slinked easily between the private, political, and leadership worlds of education - as a role model, someone who has much to teach the future army of reformyists:

Hi Chris,
I wanted to reach out because I’m helping Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) to put together their inaugural Policy Leadership Academy and wanted to extend an invitation to you to speak on a panel that will discuss human capital policy. The goal of the panel is to describe leading efforts to attract and retain excellent people in school systems and which aspects of these efforts are best accomplished through policy, as opposed to implementation or specific efforts by school leaders. LEE wants to drill down on how policymakers can best help establish the context for schools to be successful without micromanaging them. Tim Daly of TNTP is moderating the panel and Jordan Henry of NewTLA, a reform caucus of the Los Angeles teachers union will be speaking on it (a draft agenda is attached). We also just secured Jean Desravines from NLNS for the same panel.
The session is slated for Friday, July 27th, from 10:30-12pm at the CityBridge Foundation at 600 New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, DC.
As context, LEE is a new organization aimed at changing policies and laws by accelerating the leadership of Teach For America alumni. The Policy Leadership Academy is an effort to get Teach For America’s 40 senior-most alumni with an interest in policy more educated about the big questions/dilemmas in education policy. The audience will be about 60 percent candidates for local and state office and elected officials, 25 percent policy officials at the state and local level and 15 percent advocates from all over the country. The aim is to help build participants knowledge base and skill set so that they can not only get elected, but be effective in working to close the achievement gap once in leadership roles.
Do you think it might work for you to be in DC on the morning of July 27th? I think your perspective would beinvaluable.
Isabel Oregon Acosta
Assistant Director
[The Broad Foundation - Education]
Golly, the Broadies are involved? I'm just shocked...

Ken posts the full email exchange here; Cerf, of course, is delighted to attend. What's really interesting, however, is the proposed program for this little soiree. The goals include "learn[ing] skills that are essential to becoming effective elected officials" and "learn[ing] core skills (e.g. messaging and communication, coalition building) to help participants to navigate politics, legislate, and advocate" [emphasis mine]. 50-60% of the participants were scheduled to be "local/municipal candidates electeds," and 20% "state candidates/electds."

One panel was on "using key experiences from your [two years of] teaching experience to frame your campaign."Another instructed how to "frame their campaign message in terms of their Teach For America [in]experience." Other sessions include training in how to be "media savvy."

In other words: this was an event designed to train TFA alumni in "navigating politics". The Education Commissioner of New Jersey agreed to attend a nakedly political event designed to help get TFA alumni into political office.

Everybody fine with that?

Another highlight scheduled was a panel bringing together failed Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson. Anderson would discuss "reform through centralized policies and processes." Considering the state-appointed Anderson overrode her own elected school board to close public schools and lease the buildings to charters, I'd say she was an excellent choice for this particular topic.

Oh, and this session was outlined with no apparent sense of irony:
Networking and discussion about innovative solutions for addressing educational inequity among unique populations, such as English language learners, Native American students, students with special needs, and students living in rural areas. Assigned seating, pre-reading assignments. In a private room at a nice restaurant.
Thank Eli they discussed educational inequity in a "private room at a nice restaurant."

The reformy movement is no longer about innovation and addressing inequity (if it ever was). It is about power: amassing and retaining power is job one for these people. There used to be at least the pretense of a line that separated politics and our schools; the reformyists have pretty much obliterated it now. It's a brave, new, reformy, world.

You know, the ones I wear when I'm campaigning...

ADDING: Remember when then-Deputy Commissioner of the NJDOE, Andy Smarick, was also serving on the board of directors of the very reformy 50CAN?

Do these guys just not care about appearances? Is that it?

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