Jersey Jazzman: Chris Cerf's Top Ten Reformy Moments
The resignation of former Acting Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf deserves a contemplative and appropriately serious response.
Until then, I present...
Chris Cerf's Top Ten Reformy Moments!
Some more insight into Cerf's world:
chewytrain Dale Chu
@Chiefs4Change Chris Cerf: "This is a knife fight in a dark rm. We haven't shown courage & we've been nibbling at edges."@ExcelinEd #EIA11
Two takeaways here:
1) You ain't seen nuttin' yet. A few charters, some more tests, gutting tenure... kiddies, Chris Cerf is just getting started. This is just "nibbling at the edges." Think this is a guy who would be happy to walk away from this nonsense if a real "pilot" program showed his vaunted schemes won't work? Maybe that explains why he doesn't have a real pilot in place, but a phony excuse to shove this crap down our throats.
2) Cerf thinks he is having a "knife fight" with the people who oppose his little plot. So...
If you're a parent who thinks your local school board ought to have a say in approving a charter school in your town...
If you're a teacher who thinks that your tenure protections are necessary and should include an appeal to an authority outside of your district....
If you're a principal who thinks it is massively stupid to evaluate your teachers by using the secretive and never-been-fully-vetted NJASK...
If you're a student who is sick of filling in bubbles...
If you're an education researcher who is sitting on gobs of high-quality research that is being ignored by these guys...
If you're a union that dares to advocate for your middle-class members...
Understand this: the other side thinks this is a knife fight. You know how you win a knife fight?
(So I guess we know why he got the job with Rupert Murdoch, huh?)
Cerf's role in shaping media relations for the NYC schools often put him at odds with parent groups. The NY Sun reported that Cerf even put together a "Truth Squad," tasked with monitoring the writings of Klein's critics. And Klein's office had little compunction about helping those who would answer for them: a scathing article targeting Diane Ravitch, the influential education policy guru and critic of Klein's brand of reform, was fueled by a "research file" compiled by the NYC Education Department. According to parent and Klein critic Leonie Haimson, the press office was under Cerf's control:
None of this is particularly surprising, but what did surprise me is what I learned during a forum a few months ago, in April, on “Grading NY’s public schools.” During the question period, I asked Cerf a question. I began by introducing myself, but he quickly interrupted me to say, “I know who you are; I read your stuff every day.”
Every day? Not in my wildest dreams had I imagined that Cerf or anyone at that high a level at Tweed had the inclination or the time to do this. Sometimes I don’t even read myself every day – I’m too busy. I know my husband almost never does. I doubt most of the people on the list serv do.
But I was happy to hear this, if a bit surprised that Cerf had admitted this, for if I and others on our list can cause him one tenth the headaches that Tweed causes us every day, not to mention the other one million plus NYC public school parents -- that does give me a small sense of satisfaction.
After looking at the historical record, I now conclude that what probably started as a pure monitoring exercise, instigated by Cerf in Feb. of 2007 eventually turned into a rather lame attempt to beat the critics at their own game nearly a year later.
It was in October 2007, after all, that it emerged that Diane Ravitch had been taped by the DOE at various speaking events, and a file compiled of her remarks. [emphasis mine]
I ask those of you in New Jersey who've watched Christie's office over the last year: does this type of behavior sound familiar?
The big news of the day is this story in today’s Daily News and Times, about Christopher Cerf, a deputy schools chancellor who is one of Joel Klein’s closest aides. The News reports that investigators last year concluded that Cerf had violated city law, by improperly using his position to extract a $60,000 donation from a company on contract with the city at the time, Edison Schools. The donation would have gone to a charity on whose board Cerf sat and which he told investigators he was trying to save. Ultimately, after being questioned by investigators, Cerf decided not to pursue the donation.
The violation is noteworthy, especially given the other conflict-of-interest imbroglio Cerf was wrapped up in at the time: After coming under fire for holding substantial stock in the same company, Edison, which he had been president of before coming to the department, Cerf released his holdings in the stock — but only 24 hours before being publicly questioned about it.
But it will become even more noteworthy in the days ahead because of this: The report was never publicly released. It’s only surfacing now because of a Freedom of Information Law request originally filed by Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters (and no friend of the Department of Education’s, to be sure). And even this copy — which I have and am trying to upload for everyone else to see — is heavily redacted, as you can see above.
The result is not only resurrected questions about Cerf’s propriety, but bigger questions about how sufficiently the Department of Education is held accountable. The DOE claims its current structure has more accountability than ever before, since, if the public isn’t happy with the schools and their officials, they can vote out the mayor who runs them. But advocates charge that the current structure allows school officials to hide from scrutiny. This report provides them some new ammunition. [emphasis mine]
Here's the page from the report:
The full report from the Special Commissioner of Investigation is here. Cerf solicited a contribution from an executive at Liberty Partners: the same firm that worked out the buy-out of Edison using the Florida teachers' pension fund.
And the last thing that I hope we can join together in is that these conversations take place in a framework of mutual respect.
"Scaring students in the classroom, scaring parents with the notes home in the bookbags, and the mandatory 'Project Democracy Homework' asking your parents about what they're going to do in the school board election, and reporting back to your teachers union representatives, using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom, is reprehensible."
I have the deepest imaginable respect for the contribution of our teachers, our educators. We may disagree on some policy initiatives, but I know the great success this state is experiencing is attributable overwhelmingly to the commitment, the passion, the talent, the craftsmanship of our educators.
So, Barbara [Morgan, former NJDOE Communications Director] - how's the new job going?
[Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, this is a family blog. While the occasional PG-rated, mild vulgarity may grace your screen as you peruse this web-based tome, it is nonetheless my policy to keep the more malodorous profanities at bay. In the interests of good taste, therefore, I present a somewhat edited version of the following report. I would still suggest you read this away from children.]
Tuesday was an angry day in Weinerland.
The campaign staff awoke to see their former intern, Olivia Nuzzi, on the front cover of the Daily News. Inside the paper was an article bylined by Nuzzi in which she told a rather unflattering tale of her experience working on Anthony Weiner’s mayoral bid.
Now, Team Weiner is firing back. TPM called Weiner’s communications director Barbara Morgan to discuss an unrelated story Tuesday and she went off on a curse-filled rant about Nuzzi, describing her as a fame hungry “b****” who “sucked” at her job. Morgan also called Nuzzi a “slutbag,” [Is this one worth bleeping? 'Cause the next two sure are! - JJ] “t***,” and “c***” while threatening to sue her. [See? - JJ]
On Monday, Nuzzi, a college student and writer, published a story on the blog NSFWCORP that claimed multiple sources on the campaign told her there had been “six departures” from Weiner’s team, more than had been previously disclosed. She also claimed that staffers had been underpaid and that the former campaign manager, Danny Kedem, left over the weekend because Weiner “lied to him about the timing of his sexting scandal.”
Nuzzi’s post on NSFWCORP was followed up by Tuesday’s Daily News cover story in which she claimed Weiner incorrectly called multiple interns “Monica” and said people only joined Weiner’s campaign to curry favor with his wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Along with these allegations, Nuzzi wrote in the Daily News that “a lot” of Weiner’s staff had “short résumés,” including Morgan, who Nuzzi derisively noted “last worked as the press secretary for the New Jersey state education commissioner.”
“I’m dealing with like stupid f***ing interns who make it on to the cover of the Daily News even though they signed NDAs and/or they proceeded to trash me,” Morgan told TPM, referring to a non-disclosure agreement. “And by the way, I tried to fire her, but she begged to come back and I gave her a second chance.”
Morgan went on to suggest Nuzzi would be unable to get a job in New York City’s political scene as a result of her actions.
“F***ing slutbag. Nice f***ing glamour shot on the cover of the Daily News. Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again,” said Morgan.
Nice job, Commissioner Cerf: not only did you hire a communications director who doesn't know the most basic rules of the game, you undoubtedly turned the coffee room at the NJDOE into a sailors bar.
I just couldn’t pass this one up. This is a graph for the ages, and it comes from a presentation by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education given at the NJASA Commissioner’s Convocation in Jackson, NJ on Feb 29. State of NJ Schools presentation 2-29-2012
Please turn to Slide #24:
The title conveys the intended point of the graph – that if you look hard enough across New Jersey – you can find not only some, but MANY higher poverty schools that perform better than lower poverty schools.
This is a bizarre graph to say the least. It’s set up as a scatter plot of proficiency rates with respect to free/reduced lunch rates, but then it only includes those schools/dots that fall in these otherwise unlikely positions. At least put the others there faintly in the background, so we can see where these fit into the overall pattern. The suggestion here is that there is not pattern.
The apparent inference here? Either poverty itself really isn’t that important a factor in determining student success rates on state assessments, or, alternatively, free and reduced lunch simply isn’t a very good measure of poverty even if poverty is a good predictor. Either way, something’s clearly amiss if we have so many higher poverty schools outperforming lower poverty ones. In fact, the only dots included in the graph are high poverty districts outperforming lower poverty ones. There can’t be much of a pattern between these two variables at all, can there? If anything, the trendline must be sloped up hill? (that is, higher poverty leads to higher outcomes!)
Note that the graph doesn’t even tell us which or how many dots/schools are in each group and/or what percent of all schools these represent. Are they the norm? or the outliers?
So, here’s the actual pattern:
Hmmm… looks a little different when you put it that way. Yeah, it’s a scatter, not a perfectly straight line of dots. And yes, there are some dots to the right hand side that land above the 65 line and some dots to the left that land below it.
BUT THE REALITY IS THAT FREE/REDUCED LUNCH ALONE EXPLAINS ABOUT 2/3 OF THE VARIATION IN PROFICIENCY RATES ACROSS SCHOOLS!
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the committee chairman, said Cerf’s answers about his residency nearly kept him from voting to affirm the nomination. Scutari said Cerf may have perpetrated "something like fraud" by not being truthful about his motivation to move.
Scutari said he didn’t buy it.
Earlier this year, Cerf rented an apartment in Somerset County that is closer to his job in Trenton than the home he shares with his wife and children in Montclair. Cerf said he rented the apartment in Montgomery because the area was "charming" and the rent was "reasonable."
He said the committee should be "insulted" by Cerf’s deception. The real reason for Cerf’s move, he said, was a need to get out of Essex County because of Rice’s decision to block the nomination. The unwritten senatorial courtesy rule allows senators to block gubernatorial appointees who reside in the counties the lawmakers serve.
"If you had sat down and said ‘I moved because of Senate rules or senatorial courtesy or Senator Rice and I had to get a residence somewhere else,’ that’s one thing," Scutari said. "For you to sit here and tell us you moved to be closer to work when you have a driver, I cannot accept that answer." [emphasis mine]
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said Cerf fully disclosed his ties to Global Education Advisors and described his involvement to the governor’s office.
"He explained it to us during the vetting process and that he would be ending the association. We were completely satisfied by that," said the spokesman, Michael Drewniak. "It has no conflict with his nomination to be education commissioner." However, Cerf’s public explanations varied from earlier statements just a day earlier, when he said he had done little more than lend his address for the incorporation papers.
He said Wednesday he had been involved more directly with the company during a brief period around Thanksgiving when it began working on an analysis that would count enrollment, facilities and student achievement. Cerf said the work did not begin in earnest until around December. "Several weeks later I resigned," he noted. He was nominated for commissioner on Dec. 20.
"I never even saw it until a few days ago," he said.
Until then, he said his role was simply to conduct fact-based studies of the Newark Public Schools. He added that he had no role in drafting the recommendations that have generated so much concern by parents and educators. He called his campaign contribution to Booker neither improper or unusual, adding that he had also contributed money to the school board campaign of Shavar Jeffries.
Newark school board officials said it was clear to them that Cerf was involved more deeply in the company before his departure. Advisory Board Vice Chairwoman Barbara King said the board’s leadership only became aware of Global Education Advisors and their work in the district after that work had begun, and they had a sit-down meeting with Cerf and Rajeev Bajaj, who now runs the consulting firm. [emphasis mine]
Back in the spring of 2012, I pointed out that being a graduate of the Broad Superintendents
Academy Book Club was a great way to get on the gravy train to Reformyville. Penny MacCormack and Mike Miles - both graduates of Broad, just like NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf - were making big consultancy bucks:
Last week, ACTING Commissioner Chris Cerf of the NJ DOE had to explain to the legislature how the state could afford some hefty consulting fees:
In documents provided to the OLS in its budget review, the department disclosed consultants on the Cerf’s school funding proposal made as much as $1,000 or even $2,500 a day.
“That’s certainly an interesting amount,” said state Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) of the latter figure. “Imagine if that went a full year, that would break all records.”
One assistant commissioner, Penny MacCormack, was hired last fall for three months at $1,000 a day until she could be confirmed by the state Board of Education as a permanent hire in January. She is now earning a salary of $135,000 a year, officials said.
Cerf defended the extra pay, saying MacCormack was a critical hire and the consultants on the funding report – including some notable national names in the school funding debates – were invaluable.
“This level of talent and expertise comes with a price tag,” he said.
Nonetheless, Sarlo asked Cerf for a full list of the per diem and consultants hired. The chairman said afterward it remained a curious stretch for an administration quick to criticize the pay of teachers and other school employees, including caps on superintendents, that is well below what it is paying consultants.
“A little hypocritical, isn’t it?” Sarlo said in an interview.
More than a little, I'd say; especially since this isn't the only recent instance of the state pushing tax dollars toward school consultants. Take a look at what's happening in the state-controlled district of Paterson:
PATERSON, NJ – An education specialist fired last September by the U.S. defense department over allegations of misconduct has been working at Paterson Public Schools under a consulting contract that pays a Colorado company $7,244 per day.
Shirley Miles had been executive director of the Department of Defense Education Activity when an Inspector General investigation last year found that she steered jobs to friends and family, took liberties with travel reimbursements and failed to properly report vacation days, according to a story by Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.
After being fired in September by the federal government on the nepotism-related allegations, it seems Shirley Miles’ family connections quickly landed her work in Paterson.
By October, she joined the team of consultants assigned to Paterson under the school district’s contract with Colorado-based Curriculum Focal Point, according to district employees. Her brother, Mike Miles, is described as one of Focal Point’s “professional developers” on the company’s website and many district employees generally consider him the consulting company’s main representative in Paterson. [emphasis mine]
Remember: MacCormack and Miles, just like Cerf, are graduates of the Broad Superintendent's
Academy Book Club. Further, both MacCormack and Miles went on after their state-sponsored consultancies to run districts: MacCormack in Montclair, NJ, and Miles in Dallas, TX.
So, how's that working out?
(Click through to find out. It ain't pretty.)
And now, the #1 Chris Cerf Reformy Moment...: If I Told You, It Wouldn't Be a Secret, Would It?
The co-chair of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools (JCPS) says news of acting state education commissioner Christopher Cerf’s meeting secretly in a private residence in 2011 with some Board of Education members and Councilman Steven Fulop to discuss future action on then-superintendent Charles Epps’ contract is something the committee would want to investigate, as is the way in which Jersey City’s new schools superintendent was hired.
“This calls for an investigation,” says state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-29) of Newark, co-chair of the 13-member committee, which consists of seven assemblymen and six senators. “A candidate for mayor, Mr. Fulop, arranges a meeting with Cerf, some residents and school board members in someone’s house to discuss pending issues not yet decided by the board? Where’s the transparency?”
According to a report Friday in the Hudson Reporter, Fulop, who has been accused of helping orchestrate the hiring of the new superintendent, Marcia Lyles, convened a secret meeting on May 3, 2011 involving Cerf, some residents, two sitting board members and two board members-elect in a home at 274 Arlington Avenue. At that time, the board was preparing to remove Epps. Ultimately, the board selected Lyles over a second finalist, South Carolina educator Debra Brathwaite.
In an email, Fulop invites current board members Marvin Adames, Carol Harrison-Arnold, Sterling Waterman and Carol Lester to attend the meeting. Others invited included Shelley Skinner, deputy director of the Better Education for Kids school choice advocacy group, and Ellen Simon, founder of Parents for Progress, the committee allied with Fulop that endorsed the three winning board candidates in the last election.
The meeting, however, would not be a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, better known as the Sunshine Law. The law, which was passed in order to increase government transparency, requires that decision-making government bodies “conduct their business in public,” with a few exceptions such as when discussing pending lawsuits.
There are a number of stipulations for when a meeting would be required to be open, such as if a majority of a body’s members are in attendance. That was not the case in this instance, as two of the attendees were Board Members-elect and not yet technically public officials. [emphasis mine]
OK, hold on here. You're telling me that this meeting was just fine because these people had won an election but hadn't been sworn in yet? Gimme a break. Cerf should have known better; he's in charge of setting the standard for the state. This is exactly what Senator Loretta Weinberg meant when she warned Cerf to "sharpen his ethics antennae" earlier today. You don't skirt around the spirit of the law when you're trying to set a high bar for yourself.
But transparency is not Cerf's forte:
Still, Cerf has never met in an open public forum with the community at large in Jersey City to discuss the superintendent search. This, despite concerns over secrecy and perceptions that the state long ago determined it wanted Lyles. Cerf did appear before the board last December in a closed personnel session to discuss the issue, after declining to accept the board’s invitation to address the public.
Remember that Lyles and Cerf are both gradates of the Broad Superintendents "Academy." Yet, despite the secret meetings, and despite the fact that Fulop admits he had to convince Cerf that JC wouldn't hire a local candidate, Cerf still insists he wasn't involved in the decision to hire Lyles.
Can you understand how maybe the people of Jersey City might have a problem simply taking his word on this?
Ah, good times. This blog will never be the same, will it?
"I'll tell you my one pet peeve - I don't know whether your leadership feels this way -
is I think anonymous bloggers probably is the lowest form of life." Chris Cerf, 11/8/13.
Jersey Jazzman (Chris Cerf's Conception)
ADDING: Again: it's a pseudonym - I'm not anonymous.
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