For half of Edison's failed run in Dayton, the President and CEO of the charter management company was current New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who ran Edison from 1999 to 2005.
Cerf became Edison's COO in 1999, eventually moving up to CEO; that means he was front and center in both winning the Dayton contract and managing the company during half of its time in the city. What was the sales pitch?
Again: for six of the those seven years, Edison was under the direction of Chris Cerf. Yet even today, Cerf swears his time at Edison was a success:Hill said that before hiring Edison, the Dayton Business Committee vetted multiple educational management companies. In choosing Edison, the executives believed they had gone with the gold standard.“We thought we had it all: brand new facilities, the best management company,” said Doug Mangen, who was executive director of the Dayton Business Committee when Edison was hired.Mangen, who today owns a school management company and was a board member for the Edison schools from 2009 until July 2012, said he and others “got sucked into the sales pitch.” In hindsight, they were too impressed, he said, by Edison’s “$50 million in research on urban education” and the belief that “Dayton was going to be at the forefront” of education reform.Mangen said that when he joined the board seven years after he had been involved in helping select Edison, the company had changed. The goal was no longer reinventing urban education “but how do we maximize profit.” [emphasis mine]
Oh, I see: those mighty teachers unions "manipulated the press," and that led to Edison's downfall. Yeah, because the press sure loves teachers unions...Three years ago, Edison changed its name to EdisonLearning. Today, it manages 17 district schools and 42 charter schools across the country. It makes much of its income through tutoring services and educational software.Cerf said Edison employed a successful education model, though perhaps not a stellar financial model. He also called it a victim of politics and teachers unions."The unions basically put out a kill order on Edison," Cerf said. "They manipulated the press, so any time anything went wrong or there was a controversy, it would be magnified."At the least, he said, Edison laid the groundwork for successful charter-school management organizations that followed. [emphasis mine]
Let's go back to the report about Edison in Dayton and see if Checker Finn - conservative, president of the reformy Fordham Foundation, and former Reagan appointee - agrees with Cerf's assessment:
Keep in mind that no one talks more about teacher and district "accountability" than Chris Cerf.Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, whose sister organization sponsors the two schools overseen by the Alliance for Community Schools board, is among the most disillusioned about Edison’s effort in Dayton. Finn was at the table with Whittle and Chubb when Edison was conceived, and he was an early proponent of its education model. He said that the company’s “horror show” in his hometown is a special embarrassment.“They did an abysmal job in Dayton,” Finn said. “I think it was an implementation and an accountability failure.”
Which is precisely what happened in 2003, when Cerf worked a scheme to use the pensions of Florida teachers to buy out his shares in Edison. To this day, we've never had a full accounting of that deal, nor of the scandal surrounding Cerf's conflict of interest in holding the stock while working in the NYCDOE. Remember, this is what the redacted report about the affair looks like:An assistant secretary of education under former President Ronald Reagan, Finn said he has become “cynical” about the for-profit model in education. “Shareholder return ends up trumping the best interests of students,” he said. Having watched education management companies for 20 years, “Most of the models I admire today are run by non-profit groups.”
And yet privatization continues in New Jersey, against the will of the people. K12 Inc., a company eerily reminiscent of Edison a decade ago, is bringing its brand of for-profit charter management to Newark (with the blessing of Cerf's buddy, Mayor Cory Booker). Big deals are being inked in Perth Amboy with companies that have close ties to Cerf. Anointed charter management firms in Trenton and Camden are coming in at the NJDOE's invitation to take over both public schools and locally run charters.
Maybe before we allow this to continue, we should take a step back and look at the havoc our Education Commissioner wreaked in his former professional life. Maybe his track record is all the evidence we need to put the brakes on his failed privatization plans. Maybe we ought to get some more information - like the charter school report he promised us 628 days ago - before we let him destroy what is, arguably, the best public school system in the country.