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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chris Cerf: Just Another Guy Walking Through The Revolving Door

If you are at all surprised by this, you simply haven't been paying attention:  
Amplify, the educational consulting company soon to be headed by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, has been working with the Jersey City school district, which is partly run by the state, as part of a pilot program since January.
The 27,000-student district leased, free of charge, more than 50 tablets from New York-based Amplify that were loaned to students at the Infinity Institute and School 38. The tablets are loaded with programs that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards that New Jersey and 45 other states have adopted.
District spokeswoman Maryann Dickar said neither Cerf nor any state educational official encouraged the district to work with Amplify or suggested the district contact the firm. Dickar noted that the pilot program doesn’t cost the district one cent, and runs only 30 days in one school and 10 in another.
"The district is exploring several technology-based initiatives including e-readers, blended learning and flipped classrooms," she said in an email when asked if the Amplify pilot program would be replicated districtwide.
The Board of Education did not approve the program. Dickar said the nine-member body doesn't have to vote on the pilot because it doesn't cost the district anything.
Amplify, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps., is now run by former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, once boss to both Cerf and Jersey City Schools Superintendent Marcia V. Lyles.
Cerf raised eyebrows on Tuesday when he announced he is stepping down as the state’s education commissioner later this month to become CEO of Amplify. He discounted any notion that his new job represents a conflict of interest, saying state regulations forbid him from trading on his professional connections. [emphasis mine]
Well, of course they do. It's obvious that Amplify isn't hiring Cerf because of his extensive experience at the highest levels of the New Jersey and NYC school systems, or his association with Jeb! Bush's "Chiefs For Change," or his political connections. They're obviously hiring Cerf because of his... uh...

Vast knowledge of curriculum development? Wait, that can't be right: he only taught a few years at a private school and has no degrees in education. Uh...

Maybe his extensive experience in software development? No, couldn't be that: he doesn't have any. Hmm...

Could it be his track record of success running Edison Learning? Yeah, probably not...

Let's be clear: Chris Cerf may be stepping through the public-private revolving door once again, but he's hardly alone. We now live in a country where gobs of public officials passing back and forth between jobs in government and industry is a normal state of affairs.

Congress does it. The Department of Defense does it. The SEC does it. The healthcare industry does it. The telecom industry does it. Corporate America does it. The media does it; man, do they do it...

And, of course, so does the education-industrial complex:

For instance, early Common Core (CCSS) critics will recognize recent Chief of Staff and Race to the Top leader Joanne Weiss, who came to the Department from NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF), a “non-profit venture philanthropy firm” whose donors include for-profit testing giant Pearson and nonprofit-in-name-only Educational Testing Service. She publicly hailed the Common Core standards, which states had to adopt to compete in Race to the Top, because widespread adoption created national markets for education companies. That’s a troubling stance for someone in her position to take, especially when you consider how much of our money the department awarded to testing companies-- not to teachers or professional development, as the new standards rolled out. Weiss now works as a consultant for other organizations seeking influence with the Department.

There are also leaders like Karen Cator, who came to the department directly after leading Apple’s education ventures. She left to become CEO of Digital Promise, a federal project focused on bringing more tech and data integration to schools, that is funded by companies including Apple, Pearson, and Amplify (Rupert Murdoch’s education venture).
It’s worth noting that the department knows there could be a problem with hiring so many people coming from the same types of organizations. The issue emerged when two top officials, current Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton and former chief of staff Margot Rogers, came to the department directly from the Gates Foundation. Yet rather than take that as a cue to diversify their recruitment, they received ethics waivers so they could continue to consult freely with Gates. [emphasis mine]
Isn't that just so super? Of course, Bill Gates pretty much paid for the entire development and selling of the Common Core; no surprise his people would be coming into the USDOE.

There are three techniques revolving door riders use to isolate themselves from criticism. The first is to set up laws and standards so arcane, so lax, and so ineffective, that they are essentially useless. The second is to create situations where there's enough plausible deniability to give the revolvers an out. Take Cerf's situation: Since "no money has changed hands" it's assumed that everything is perfectly fine -- as if Amplify is giving stuff away rather than making a sales pitch. As if there were no advantage whatsoever to a company having a former education commissioner on its payroll when bidding on a contract for a state-managed district. How dare anyone say otherwise...

Which brings us to our third technique: righteous outrage and an inflated sense of one's self. My all-time favorite example of this is none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney:

Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, former Secretary of Defense, and former congressman, actually said in the 2000 vice-presidental debate:
“And I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers, that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too,” Lieberman said.
Unruffled, Cheney shot back, “I can tell you, Joe, that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Yes, we elected a government contractor as Vice-President -- and he thought his success had absolutely nothing to do with the government. So, hey, if it's good enough for the veep, it's good enough for a state commissioner of education, amiright?

Chris Cerf's shuffling between the private and public sectors is perfectly legal and perfectly normal; that, of course, is exactly the problem.

Here's the Asbury Park Press's frank take on the matter:
Let’s start with Cerf’s new job, as CEO of Amplify Insight, an education firm self-described as providing professional services to help teachers assess student needs and determine progress. Cerf has said that he doesn’t see any ethical conflicts and that he’s not even sure if his new company already is doing business with New Jersey schools. Fact is, however, that as commissioner, Cerf has been busy propping up the controversial new “Common Core” standards for testing students and evaluating teachers that many believe are being rushed into place, at high costs and with uncertain benefits.
If school districts struggle with the implementation of the new standards, and test results plummet as a result of a mishandled transition, guess which company would be able to exploit those struggles by offering its services? Amplify Insight. A two-year ban on Cerf and Amplify doing any business with New Jersey schools should be in order with Cerf on board. [emphasis mine]
In a sane world, newspapers wouldn't have to call for such measures: they would simply be assumed. But Ike Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" has now infected pretty much every aspect of the public sphere; influence peddling has become the new status quo, so much so that it's apparently impolite to bring up such matters. Better to worry that retired military personnel might be bringing home too much of the money that was promised to them. After all, greedy people who stay in public service are the real problem, right?


"Accountability" begins at home.

ADDING: From the Jersey Journal's piece:
Cerf has never been popular with many Jersey City teachers and parents, who fear he has taken too active a role in the school district. Many believe he personally selected Lyles to replace former schools chief Charles T. Epps. Jr., though Cerf has denied that accusation.
In July 2012, a leaked email showed Cerf had a secret meeting in May 2011 with local education activists, members of the BOE and Mayor Steve Fulop, who was then a member of the City Council. Cerf critics said that meeting is proof he has too much control over Jersey City schools, while Cerf said the meeting was one of many he has with local stakeholders.
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along...

ADDING MORE: Hang on a sec -- what's the timeline here?

His [Cerf's] departure had long been rumored in and outside the department, not unusual for any administration entering a second term.
“For the last three plus years, we have been able to put a number of really significant accomplishments on the board,” Cerf said yesterday.
“I committed to the governor when I came that I would stay for one term,” he said.
“Frankly, this opportunity arose unsolicited, and I fended it off for quite some time, ” he added. And it just became increasingly intriguing for me, and fulfilled an objective I had for the last part of my career, which was to really think about ways to enhance public education through personalized learning and other solutions.” [emphasis mine]
So Cerf has been courted by Amplify "for quite some time." Even as Jersey City -- again, a state-controlled school district -- was trying out Amplify's products.

Anyone have a problem with this?


Giuseppe said...

This is chutzpah on a level so pathological and so shameless that even Darth Vader would be jealous. Who will be the next sociopath to occupy the still warm seat of commissioner of "edumacation" in NJ? Never fear, with Christie in charge, it will be another Cerf clone.

Giuseppe said...

This is from the Manhattan Institute website: "On January 31, 2014, the Manhattan Institute's Center for State and Local Leadership presented its annual Urban Innovator Award to New Jersey's state commissioner of education Christopher Cerf.

New Jersey evolved from a laggard to a leader in education reform under Cerf's leadership. The Garden State implemented numerous efforts: tenure reform, Newark's historic teachers' contract, support for effective charters, renaissance schools in Camden, Newark, and Trenton, and inter-district choice. These changes foster choice, competition, accountability, and improve student achievement." EXCUSE ME WHILE I VOMIT, VOMIT, VOMIT. This is some vile right wing libertarian "think" tank which takes the think out of think tank. NJ a laggard state in education?!!? Wow, what a damn lie. Talk about Orwellian and Kafkaesque, the Manhattan Institute takes the cake for living in an alternate universe of half truths, outright lies and misinformation. http://www.manhattan-institute.org/multimedia/events/013114MI/