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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Double-Secret Charter School Panel

In New Jersey, you have to file a freedom of information request to find out who decides which charter schools get your tax money. Oh, that pesky democracy...
Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) filed the request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and her office yesterday shared the state's response of more than a dozen pages of names and emails.
Included in the first reviews were advocates from across New Jersey, including several charter school leaders. The latest round had a more national flavor, including top charter school officials from Colorado, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
Gill said yesterday the lists in both years was notably absent of traditional public school educators and community representatives. She also questioned the expense of nearly $125,000 for about two weeks work.
"It underscores the need for the local community to have more of a role in the process," Gill said. "They have given charter school consultants more say in how money is spent on charter schools than the communities where they are located and will have an impact." [emphasis mine]
Senator Gill thinks local taxpayers should have a say in how their money is spent. How quaint.
Chris Cerf, New Jersey's ["ACTING" - he should always be referred to as "ACTING" -- JJ] education commissioner, said yesterday he's glad the names are out and said it was more of a legal issue that held up their release.
"I think it was just a back and forth among lawyers about protecting the application of OPRA, but I have long believed that was appropriate," he said.
Oh, it was just a paperwork snafu - got it. I guess these people had to have their identities protected like they were mob informants or something.
Cerf defended the reviewers and their pro-charter leanings as valuable to the process. And he stressed that the final decisions still rested with his office and the department.
"These are serious educators and quality people who want public education to succeed," he said. "A central theme of charter advocates today is we need to be extremely thoughtful about who we give a charter school to, and we may have been too generous historically. Being charter advocates is not at all inconsistent with being concerned about quality."
I wish his boss would say the same thing about school unions, but never mind that. Who are these "serious educators and quality people"?
Among the better known names in the 2010 round were Derrell Bradford...
Who has never taught, has never administered, holds no degrees in education, has never run a charter school, and has admitted publicly that the primary tactic in his "advocacy" work has been to advance himself:

and Shelley Skinner, senior staff to the Better Education for Kids New Jersey, an advocacy group pressing for tenure reform;
Who has never taught, holds no degrees in education, but worked as a development director for a charter school. A charter that I am sure is a very fine school with a committed staff and wonderful children, but still serves a completely different population than the other schools in its neighborhood, which appears to account for much of its success.
James Deneen, author, formerly of the Education Testing Service; 
Who had a serious career as an educator but now promotes schlock like "The Cartel," is appalled at the spending in urban districts without any apparent thought about the context of that spending, and thinks part of the solution is to narrow the curriculum for poor children.
Kim Chorba, director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families;
Who is lobbying to take money away from local school districts and give it to private schools.
and Josh Pruzansky of the Orthodox Union.
Who also lobbies to take money away from local school districts and give it to private schools.

None (save, perhaps, Deneen) has any particular experience, education, or professional background to judge curriculum, financial structure, governance, or any of a number of other factors that would make a charter a success. But, hey, what the heck: when the school fails, shutter it and ship the kids off somewhere else. Everyone knows children do great when they're shuttled around and don't have consistency and structure in their lives...

The last two, by the way, ought to tell you where we're headed with all of this. Chorba and Pruzansky want to take taxpayer money away from public schools and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to local school boards. Yes, there are many fine private schools; there are also many that suck, which is why private schools do no better than public schools when accounting for the characteristics of the students.

Regardless, the local communities will never have any ability to hold them accountable for how they spend taxpayers' money. Just like the local communities have no say in charter applications. Just like they have no way to hold those charters accountable when they take funds away from the local district.

Is anyone noticing a pattern here? Chris?
Cerf defended the reviewers and their pro-charter leanings as valuable to the process. And he stressed that the final decisions still rested with his office and the department.
Ah - the Acting Lord High Executioner, Sir Christopher of Cerf, unelected and unconfirmed, gets the final say. How... regal of him.

It's good to be the king!

ADDING: This is a great comment at the NJ Spotlight story from someone who's been around this blog quite a bit:
And where does the National Association for Charter School Authorizers get the money to pay for this? In 2010 they received a grant from the Walton Foundation, whose goal according to their website is to "infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system" for $1,874,274. In 2008 they received a 2 year grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $2,979,186. And these are just two of their top four funders:


The New Jersey Charter School Association received a $950,000 grant from the Walton Foundation in 2010 as well. In the emails released with this OPRA request their director, Carlos Perez is asked by the NJDOE for help recruit reviewers.

The big foundations of the Billionaire Boys Club are pulling all of the strings. These organizations may be called "National" this, or "New Jersey" that, but they are ALL FUNDED WITH CORPORATE MONEY! And now they have more say in what happens to public schools than actual educators...


Mother Crusader said...

Thanks for the shout out! I was actually dropping by your blog to drop a little tidbit on you and was pleasantly surprised to find my earlier comment added to your post.

I sat in a meeting with Chris Cerf and Carly Bolger, the Director of the Charter School Office, in August. Bolger was asked why they weren't releasing the names of the reviewers. She stated that they would "go to the mat" to protect the identity of their reviewers.

You are right, this was no paperwork snafu. I think they fought like hell to keep this hidden until they were backed into a corner by the Education Law Center, the ACLU and Senator Gill. Kudos to them!

Duke said...

That's quite a tidbit. When are you starting a blog?!?!