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 17, 2011

When Public Education's Leaders Hate Public Education

Oh, dear:
Andy Smarick, the deputy education commissioner, is now a member of the governing board of a private advocacy organization seeking to bring its version of education reform — including expansion of charter schools and stricter teacher evaluation — to all 50 states, including New Jersey.
Just a case of the exercise of his First Amendment right in a field Smarick knows well? Or is it a government regulator using his position to promote his viewpoint?
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, called Smarick’s private activities "a substantial conflict of interest." Smarick is a member of the board of directors of 50CAN — short for "The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now."
"As a trustee of this organization, Smarick has a legal responsibility to advance its views and raise money for it," Sciarra said, "but, as a state official, he has only one responsibility — to serve the people of the state and, in this case, the children of the state. By law he must be objective, but under these circumstances he cannot be."
Sciarra released e-mails from the department showing Smarick is involved in organizing 50CAN, recruiting staff and raising funds. Sciarra filed requests under the Open Public Records Act to get the e-mails.
David is hip enough to understand that Acting Ed Commish Chris Cerf and his merry crew gave up any pretense of being "objective" long ago. Aside from Smarick's short but rich history of traveling around the wingnut welfare gravy train circuit, he has left a paper trail as a "reformer" that pretty much establishes that his interest in public education is limited to how to dismantle it and sell the parts for scrap:
In many ways, replacing the district system seems inconceivable, almost heretical. Districts have existed for generations, and in many minds, the traditional system is synonymous with public education. However, the history of urban districts’ inability to provide a high-quality education to their low-income students is nearly as long. It’s clear that we need a new type of system for urban public education, one that is able to respond nimbly to great school success, chronic school failure, and everything in between. A chartered system could do precisely that. [emphasis mine]
Just so we're clear: the problem is the "urban" districts. Andy just wants to change "urban" education. 'Cause, you know, "urban" people can't be trusted to run their own schools...

I give great credit to Bob Braun for pursuing this story; like Krugman at the Times, he's become the best reason to read the Star-Ledger. I will only humbly point out that I was on this weeks ago, and am thrilled to see Braun bring his considerable skills to bear on the subject.

But let's make another connection, shall we? What about Cerf's other deputies?
Nine months into the job, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf continues to fill out what he calls his top "cabinet-level" positions, the latest hire a former official in Hartford, CT, schools to be his chief academic officer.
Before Hartford, MacCormack was an assistant superintendent in New Haven, CT, schools and a principal in Milford. Cerf and MacCormack also both participated in the Broad Foundation's leadership programs, an increasingly influential training ground for education leaders nationwide.
Both Broadies, eh? Wait, wasn't Cerf involved in some Broad nonsense earlier?
So Cerf was trained by the Broads to take high-level education policy positions. Later, they came up with the money for Cerf's firm to push charter schools in Newark, knowing he had once been the president of one of the nation's largest charter contractors, Edison Learning. Cerf took their money and then proceeded to write a report pushing charter schools. And now, thanks in part to his training with Broad, he is set to become the most powerful education official in the state, and establish those very charters.

And, for good measure, he threw in a hefty campaign contribution to the Mayor of Newark, just 'cause he likes him so much.

This stinks on ice. Why the hell is Eli Broad, sitting in LA, allowed to have so much influence over educational policies in New Jersey? Why is an outside consulting firm being used to dictate policy choices for the Newark schools? And why does the presumed Commissioner of the NJDOE keep changing his story? 
 So, to recap:

  • Cerf is a Broadie, and Broad gave Cerf money to push a conversion of Newark's schools into charters.
  • Cerf hired another Broadie, MacCormack, to run the testing programs.
  • Cerf's other deputy, Samrick, has a huge conflict of interest in blatantly promoting charters.
  • Oh, Braun's report also points out that Cerf's chief of staff, David Hespe, is on the board of E3, Derrell Bradford's old voucher pushing shop.
Now, I hate to spoil the party, but we all know that charters do no better than regular schools, right? So the notion that what this crew has a plan to save urban education is just ridiculous. Why are they pushing this stuff so hard?

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