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

Friday, July 10, 2015

Newark: Chris Cerf's Victory Lap

And so Chris Cerf, the architect of the transformation of Newark into a "portfolio" school district, is now officially in charge. I have to say I was a little surprised Cerf's confirmation was only one vote away from deadlock; then again, given his close ties to embattled former State Superintendent Cami Anderson, only the most ardent supporters of Cerf wouldn't have their doubts about his appointment.

I'll say it again: Chris Cerf is not qualified to run a school district. He holds no standard certifications in school administration nor in teaching; if he applied for a suburban superintendent job, he wouldn't get past the first round.

I never thought he was a good choice to be the Education Commissioner, given his lack of experience as an educator. But that job has a quasi-judicial component, and Cerf is a lawyer (who, impressively, clerked at the Supreme Court), so his appointment to the NJDOE was at least somewhat defensible.

But not here. Newark, like all school districts, needs an experienced, well-trained school leader with a track record of success. Frankly, Cerf's record is one of mediocrity at best and failure at worst. His tenure at Edison Learning was an unmitigated disaster. His stint at the NYCDOE under Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein is regarded by parent advocates as a train wreck. I judge his record as NJ Education Commissioner to be one full of poor decisions, leading to the alienation of teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders.

And Amplify? Well...

But let's focus on the future. Chris Cerf is, in the words of current Education Commissioner David Hespe, the man whose charge is to be the last State Superintendent of Newark. His mission, handed down from both Governor Christie and Mayor Baraka, is clear: bring the district back to local control. Will he?

My best guess now is that he will -- because this is Chris Cerf's last stand. Let's be brutally honest: if he doesn't get this right, he really doesn't have anything left. His resume lacks substantive accomplishments, in either the public or private sectors. He's going to have to have something to point to if he ever wants to work again in this field. Getting Newark to local control is that thing.

Some of you are undoubtedly disagreeing with me. Why would the man who set Newark on a path toward charter school expansion want to give up the ability to continue to do so? How will Newark ever move toward the New Orleans model of total charterization if the state gives up control?

It won't -- but that was never part of the plan. Cerf himself, in his early days in NJ, said that charter schools were never supposed to be the sole provider of schooling in cities like Newark. Contrary to the dreams of Cerf's protege, Andy Smarick, traditional district schools were always going to be part of the mix. Why?

Because the large charter chains like it that way. KIPP, for example, has consistently said it has no interest in taking over a school district completely. Why would they? If they did, they'd have to teach all of the city's students, including those with profound special education needs and those who are Limited English Proficient (LEP).

KIPP would also have to take on those kids for whom their model is not a good "fit." The KIPP folks get very, very defensive when anyone points this out, but why would they? The "choice" paradigm is built around the idea that there should be a variety of schools that take a variety of approaches, and that families should choose schools based on what works for them. If your kid doesn't adhere to KIPP's particular approach to classroom management and discipline, their school is not for him. Where, then, should he go?

In the portfolio model, he should enroll in the district school. That's what it's there for: a place for those students who don't "fit" into the KIPP or Uncommon or even the mom-and-pop, locally run charter environment. Again, I don't know why charter cheerleaders get so defensive about this -- it's a feature of their preferred system, not a bug.

Charters won't ever fully replace the district schools (although they'll certainly keep taking as much of the district's money as they possibly can). Newark is now on a trajectory to have half of its student population enrolled in the charters within a fairly short time. I can only guess, but I don't think they'll want much more then that; if they took on more students, they'd have to start taking the kids who don't "fit."

So Cerf and Christie and the charter industry don't need the state to control the district schools any more; the charters are here to stay, they will grow to whatever their leaders find to be the optimal size, and they'll continue to work the political system to get as much revenue from the districts as they can.

If fact, it's probably best for the state to divest itself of any responsibility for the Newark district at this point. Who wants to control a husk of a former school system when it's going to remain chronically underfunded and will be educating the children who need the most resources? Why deal with the remaining vestiges of the teachers union, with their demands for things like reasonable accountability systems? Why take on the impossible task of educating a segregated student population with inadequate funds?

From the point of view of education privatizers, Newark is a project that is nearly complete. In many ways, the state's withdrawal from the city is their victory lap: things went almost exactly according to plan.

Who better to take that lap than Chris Cerf, the man who made it all possible?

Now, on to Camden...

ADDING: Look's like Anderson is going to be just fine:
Cami Anderson has worked her last day as Newark's state-appointed superintendent of schools, but she will not be leaving the city empty-handed. 
State Department of Education officials confirmed that as of Thursday, Anderson had been placed on paid administrative leave for the next 90 days, over which she will collect approximately $64,000 owed to her as part of her $255,016 annual salary. 
The arrangement also allows her to collect another three months salary in severance pay, bringing the total payment up to more than $127,000. 
Under the terms of her contract, the severance pay is owed to her if Commissioner of Education David Hespe terminates her employment between July 1 and June 30, 2016, provided Anderson was given at least 90 days notice. 
The state may also still award Anderson, who was appointed to the superintendent job in 2011, with a bonus of up to 20 percent of her salary, or around $51,000, based on her work in the 2014-15 school year. 
The payment is based on whether or not she reached a number of goals laid out by the state. Earlier this year, officials revealed she was awarded a bonus of about 15 percent for reaching 5 of the 7 criteria for the 2013-14 year.
Anderson potentially will walk away with more than twice the average salary of a NJ public schoolteacher. Nice work if you can get it.

1 comment:

Julie B said...

I see where you're coming from and I hope you are right. I very much agree that the state has no interest in hanging onto a district that is the shell - either of its former self or the possibility of what it could have been. The state has done a tremendous job of laying the blame of the district conditions at the feet of the citizens, conveniently ignoring that they, the state, were in charge for a couple of decades. They will also get the benefit of "see, I told you so" while that shell of a district tries to right itself with the little resources they will be left with.

I do take issue with Cerf's 3-year contract. Just turn the district back to local control. It's shouldn't take three years.

I also thought the vote was very interesting. Stunned by Strickland's vote, but glad she seems to get it.