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, February 27, 2014

No One Does Charter School Stupid Like the Star-Ledger

Oh, my stars and garters, this is so massively dumb:
A charter school in Hoboken, “Hola,” is doing a terrific job educating kids with an innovate dual-language program, and parents are lining up to compete for scarce seats. 
Hola’s innovation is to immerse kids in both Spanish and English instruction when they are young and their brains are wired to absorb new languages. In kindergarten, 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish. By fourth and fifth grade, the split is about even. So kids become fluent in both languages, a big leg up in a country that is increasingly bilingual. 

Now Hola officials want to expand to the eighth grade, and the local superintendent, Mark Toback, is trying to stop them.
Oh, dear - why ever would the evil Mr. Toback want to do that?
 “The demographic differences are large, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work,” he says. 
The numbers are striking. Only 11 percent of Hola students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, compared with 72 percent in the city’s traditional public schools, according to state data. Given that poverty remains the most reliable predictor of student performance, Hola has a big head start over district schools.
Let's recap: there's a charter school that takes far fewer kids in poverty than the neighboring public schools. It does a "terrific job," but -- and this isn't me saying this, but the Star-Ledger itself -- that's only because the charter serves so few kids in poverty.

So it's not fair to compare Hola to the public schools -- again, even the S-L admits this -- because they don't serve the same children. And every dollar Hola takes away from the Hoboken school district is a dollar that doesn't go to children who live in poverty -- the children who are more expensive to educate than the children who, the S-L acknowledges, go to Hola. Everyone clear on this? OK...

Sit down, strap in, and stand by for quite possibly the stupidest thing ever put into print in a New Jersey newspaper:
But Toback’s response to that is dead wrong. The answer is not to slam the brakes on a successful school. The answer is to lure more poor students to Hola, something Hola is eager to do. “I myself have knocked on doors in public housing asking people if they want information on charters,” says Barbara Martinez, one of the founders. [emphasis mine]
Golly, it's just such a shame that poor people are too stupid to be "lured" into sending their kids to a school that is not answerable to their elected representatives merely on the say-so of a stranger knocking on their door...

I have little doubt that the reliably obtuse Tom Moran wrote this little exercise in reforminess. Tom, here's my question for you:

How do you know that a school can do a "terrific" job educating poor students when that school -- by your own admission -- never taught substantial numbers of poor children in the first place?!

It just so happens I know what I'm talking about: I wrote a policy brief about Hudson County's charter schools last December. From that report:
Certainly, there is no evidence within the NJDOE data to show that charters in Hoboken and Jersey City are engaging in a deliberate pattern of cream-skimming. That same data, however, is quite clear: the charter schools in Hudson County that have higher rates of proficiency and/or student growth do not serve the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students as their neighboring traditional public schools.

Further, there is a clear correlation between these charter schools’ test outcomes and the relative percentage of free lunch students they serve compared to their neighboring TPSs. The  correlation is much stronger for the county’s charter schools than its TPSs.

Hudson County’s policy makers, education leaders, and citizens need to ask themselves a question:
Are cream-skimming charters a good investment if their test score outcomes correlate closely with their disparity in serving economically disadvantaged children?
Take a look at this:

Do you see Hola, with it's 8 percent free lunch eligible student population -- a population way lower than Hoboken's "actual" free-lunch population (the proportion of students in both charters and public schools that qualify for free lunch) of 48 percent? Even with that advantage, Hola isn't higher in proficiency than many other schools in Hudson County with much higher rates of students who qualify for free lunch. Why is this considered so "terrific"?

But the stupid ain't going away yet, folks:
Remember, too, that the root problem is the failure of Hoboken’s traditional schools to attract a healthy cross-section of the city. Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely. It is the district that’s out of whack, thanks to the flight of affluent families.
So what the S-L and Moran are saying is that Hola "matches" the demographics of Hoboken; that only 11 percent of the total aged 5-18 population of the city is living at 185 percent of the poverty line or below (the qualification for FRPL).

Let's think what it would take to make the S-L's prediction come true -- all we need is a little algebra:

There are three charters in Hoboken: Hola, Elysian, and Hoboken CS (strangely listed as being in "Jersy City"[sic] in NJDOE data files, but whatever). If you added together all of the children in these three charters who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, then added the same children in the Hoboken Public Schools, you'd have 1,309 (out of a total charter/district population of 2,481). That's 53% of charter and district kids who are FRPL-eligible. With me so far?

Moran is saying that the "real" FRPL population of Hoboken matches Hola's 11% "pretty closely." Let's be incredibly generous and double Hola's FRPL population; how many kids who are not enrolled in the charters or public would there have to be in Hoboken -- assuming none of them are FRPL -- for Tom's claim to be accurate?

So, let's see... 1,309 divided by what equals 22%?... looks like 5,950... subtract 2,481...

There would have to be 3,469 extra students attending private schools or being home-schooled in Hoboken -- and none could qualify for FRPL -- for the city to have double Hola's FRPL rate. That would be a student population 40% greater than that of the charters and HPS combined.

According to the American Fact Finder at the Census Bureau, Hoboken has a 4,383 children between the ages of 5 and 19 living in its borders. Subtract the 2,481 we know go to HPS or the charters, and that leaves 1,902 children who are not in publicly-financed schools. Even if every one was of school age and did not qualify for FRPL, it still wouldn't be enough to make Hoboken's overall child poverty rate close to that at Hola.

Indulge me a bit more. Let's give the benefit of the doubt and say all 1,902 of Hoboken's kids not enrolled in charters or HPS live in families with incomes higher than 185% of the poverty line and are of school age; that's a big, big assumption, but play along. Again, 1,309 of the kids in charters and HPS are FRPL-eligible. That makes a city-wide FRPL rate of 30 percent. Hola's FRPL rate is almost one-third of Hoboken's, even under the most generous possible scenario.

(And don't even get me started about FRPL vs. just free lunch, a measure of much deeper poverty.)

So, no: there is no evidence that, "Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely." That statement, like so much in the Star-Ledger's op-ed pages when it comes to education, is a steaming load of dung.

But Tom Moran, once again, just doesn't care -- even as he wonders why his newspaper is dying...

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board, doing what they do best.

ADDING: According to the Common Core of Data at the National Center for Education Statistics, there were, in 2009-10, five private schools in Hoboken:
In total, they enrolled 921 children. Of course, the thing about private schools is that they enroll across borders: I have no doubt some of the children enrolled in these schools were not from Hoboken, just as I'm sure there are Hoboken children who go to private schools outside the city limits.

So it's difficult to say, based on this data, just how many of Hoboken's kids go to private schools. The point of this post, however, is to show that even under the most generous possible scenario, Hola enrolls a disproportionate number of FRPL eligible students.

And yet Moran makes the confident claim that, "Hola’s student body matches the demographics of the city pretty closely." You'll notice that I give all my sources and methods, but the Star-Ledger gives none.

Is it possible that newspapers like the Ledger are dying because they provide an inferior product compared to bloggers like me and Bob Braun? That we are the superior journalists because we don't just throw dreck like this out into the discourse without actually verifying it?

Just a thought...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

OUTRAGE: Cami Anderson to Newark: "Who Cares What You Think?"

I just received this press release about 10 minutes ago from the Newark Public Schools. Apparently, State Superintendent Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie and unaccountable to the elected Newark Advisory School Board, can't be bothered with criticism from the public or tough questions from their elected officials [emphasis mine]:.

So, at the last possible minute -- I got the official email at 4:15 PM -- she's chickening out of tonight's highly-anticipated school board meeting:
February 25, 2014

An Open Letter to Newark Families,

The goal of our district is to work with families every day to provide students with a great education. From the daily conversations we have with families as they drop their children off at school, to regular parent/teacher conferences to discuss a child’s progress, and to community meetings to discuss Universal Enrollment options, we greatly value our interactions with parents and community members each and every day.  Newark Public Schools (NPS) is totally committed to your children and their education – it’s why we’re moving aggressively to increase equity, transparency and accountability throughout the system.

We have come to realize that one particular venue—the monthly meetings chaired by NPS’ School Advisory Board (SAB)—are no longer focused on achieving educational outcomes for children. The dysfunction displayed within this forum sets a bad example for our children, and it’s no longer a place where meaningful interaction and dialogue occurs between NPS and the public.  As a result, Superintendent Anderson and the NPS Leadership team will no longer attend these meetings until the SAB can commit to ensuring a space conducive to open dialogue with the community.

In light of this decision, NPS will redouble its efforts to ensure the community is informed about One Newark plans and other key initiatives.  NPS will continue to create community events and discussions throughout the city and publish the agendas and minutes of these events online and in schools.  We will also continue to meet with parent advisory groups and attend student leadership forums to garner feedback in order to ensure that your concerns are effectively debated and addressed.

Finally, NPS will videotape its monthly update, traditionally presented at the SAB meeting, and distribute it directly on our website - http://www.nps.k12.nj.us/ - and on Channel 77, the Newark community cable network. 

Dialogue with you is more important than ever before.  We look forward to continuing to implement our ongoing efforts and adding new options to facilitate greater access to information. 

Newark Public Schools
What this means, of course, is that Cami Anderson will now only appear in forums similar to the phony "town halls" her boss, Chris Christie, leads (paid for with our tax dollars).

No more questions from the public she supposedly works for; no more defending her policies to the parents she supposedly serves.

No more justifying her outrageous attempts to skirt the tenure law and the NPS teachers contract -- both negotiated in good faith by the unions representing NPS teachers, who, for their good efforts, will now be screwed over royally.

No more questions on the racially biased One Newark plan, which faces legislative investigation for, among other things, allegedly engaging in brazen backroom dealing.

Chris Christie and Cami Anderson are, as far as the people of Newark are concerned, one and the same. Neither gives a damn that democracy, free speech, and accountability is now only available to suburban parents, and not to working-class urban parents of color.

Fellow suburban parents and teachers, I will say it to you once again: if Christie and Anderson and the rest of the reformy types can take away their rights, what makes you think they can't take away yours?

Here's the rest of the press release:
Statements from NPS Leadership regarding recent decision to create alternative engagement venue:

“I am an educator who believes that we must all serve as models for our students.  No one wins when personal attacks are allowed to seep into discussion.  There must be a way where we can have rigorous debates and disagreement -- even vociferously -- but remain respectful and focused on business," stated Superintendent Cami Anderson.  
As a veteran educator with two masters degrees -- one in the subject I teach, another in how to teach it -- I am more than a little cheesed that anyone with two years teaching experience, no degrees in education, no building-level administrative experience, and no standard certifications issued from the State of New Jersey would call herself "an educator."
“We witnessed a series of concerning actions last month at the SAB meeting that simply undermine the definition of a public event. For years, fair and agreeable rules have been followed in SAB meetings to ensure decorum and the strongest possible voice for the public. In my judgment, we have now reached a serious threshold of disorganization. We simply cannot continue to have dysfunctional meetings.  It is vital to remember that the true purpose of this meeting is to both inform and provide an opportunity for community input. In this environment we have lost the ability to advise the public, and we must look for ways to keep them informed,” stated Valerie Wilson, NPS’ School Business Administrator.
Ms. Wilson, with all due respect: that is not your "judgement" to make. If you don't like the way the SAB runs the meetings, resign your position. I'm sure there are many districts that could use your skills. You serve them, not vice versa.
"Since late fall, NPS has hosted over 100 community meetings with families, community members, clergy, and elected leaders. Last week alone, NPS had 10 family meetings focused on universal enrollment options for students.  On a monthly basis, we meet with students, advocates, families, and faculty," stated Ruben Roberts, NPS’ Executive Director for Community Affairs and Engagement. "Debate has occurred in these meetings and ideas have been challenged, but there has always been a sense of community and a focus on our students.  Our top priority must be to ensure that information is shared and questions are addressed and my team will continue these efforts -- and the Superintendent, who is particularly focused on these conversations -- will continue to attend."
Mr. Roberts, with all due respect: your "top priority" should be to serve the children and parents of Newark. If things get a little too hot for you at SBA meetings, maybe it's time to ask yourself if, perhaps, the good people of Newark don't think as highly of your efforts as you seem to.

I wonder: how long do you think the good people of Millburn would put up with this sort of talk from their school district administration? How do you think they would feel if they their superintendent decided not to attend their school board meetings anymore because his feelings might get hurt?

Cami Anderson: So vociferous!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Education "Reform": The Endgame

"What, in your opinion, is the endgame with all this?"

A veteran educator with years of experience teaching children in New Jersey's urban areas asked me this Saturday during my talk at the Abbott Leadership Institute. I had just gone through an explanation of the analysis I did with Bruce Baker of the One Newark plan, State Superintendent Anderson's controversial scheme to close, restructure, and give away schools to private charter management organizations (CMOs).

I've summarized our analysis before, but the main points are this:
  • Black children are more likely to see their schools undergo radical transformation under One Newark.
  • Black children are more likely to see their schools given away to CMOs under One Newark.
  • The data does not support any of these plans: specifically, there's no reason to believe CMOs will do better with the children in NPS schools, because the charters are not currently educating the same types of kids.
I also presented some new information that we will release soon about the staff consequences of One Newark; in my opinion, it's disturbing. And I talked about the racial bias in local control, the bizarre implementation of NPS's vaunted merit pay plan, and how data is regularly abused by both NJDOE and NPS to justify their policies.

All well and good -- but ultimately we can't understand what's happening in Newark, in New Jersey, and in the rest of the country without asking where this is all going. What are these radical superintendents and state leaders -- trained by Eli Broad, Teach For America, and New Leaders for New Schools, among others -- trying to accomplish? What is the goal for the reformy, self-appointed, corporate foundation-supported education policy mavens? What do the big money donors to the reformy cause -- Gates, the Waltons, Broad, Zuckerberg, Arnold, Tepper & Fournier, Rock, the Koch brothers -- want? What is the endgame?

It's a difficult and complex question, and the data doesn't really give us an answer. The best we can do is speculate, but there's a problem with that: in my opinion, these people are highly self-conflicted when it comes to their goals. I don't believe that Bill Gates really thinks it's OK to see good teachers inadvertently fired because of an innumerate, illogical evaluation system that uses Value-Added Modeling. I don't think Michelle Rhee really wants children and parents wasting time on test prep. I don't think Arne Duncan really believes that children in poverty aren't at a disadvantage when gauging their academic outcomes.


They all still keeping advocating for reformy policies that not only are premised on these beliefs: they also have little if any evidence to back them up. They engage in some of the most twisted logic imaginable to avoid dealing with their own cognitive dissonance. They cherry-pick research to support their ideology -- for example, using outliers to "prove" poverty doesn't matter -- while ignoring copious evidence for policies that don't fit their agenda -- for example, the effects of class-size reduction on student learning.

The only reason they would do this is that there has to be something in it for them. There has to be a reason they continue to believe what they believe, in spite of the piles of evidence, research, data, and analysis that do not comport with their world view. They must have something to gain from all of this.

And they do. I break it down into a hierarchy -- from the most obvious to the most subtle:

1) There's good money to be made in being reformy. It's been a while since I updated this:

The fine, reformy folks who love to claim that they don't have any skin in the game -- the ones who either implicitly or explicitly call out unions and teachers for acting out of self-interest -- seem to do awfully well for themselves. Why, there's Eva Moskowitz, brave crusader against the terrible teachers unions (according to the bible of the ruling class, the Wall Street Journal), pulling down nearly half-a-mil a year even as she decries the "bullying" UFT. There's Chris Cerf, off to greener pastures at Rupert Murdoch's Amplify after sending NJ's schools down the reformy path. And there's Joe Bruno, pulling down more than $400K for arranging financing for charter school construction.

All of these people are making salaries that principals and public school superintendents can only dream of, let alone teachers. You can live a very comfortable life if you're willing and able to toe the reformy line. But, good as it is, the big money's another level up...

2) There's big money to be made behind the reformy scenes. Down in South Florida, the Zulueta brothers, according to the Miami Herald, control a $115 million real estate empire, financed with public monies, and tax-free because it houses charter schools. Andrew Tisch's K12 Inc. is looking to expand into Newark, managing virtual charters for profit in a market they hope to see expand enormously. Investors are gathering big piles of money to invest in charter school expansion, using new markets tax credits to practically guarantee a return. Charter operators have essentially bought themselves state-level politicians and rewritten the laws to rake in piles of cash for their schools as public districts wither and die. Even the "noble" CMOs have back-channel real estate deals brewing.

I could spend all day providing links to stories like these. Anyone who denies that the "reform" movement isn't abetting a wholesale transfer of public monies and property to private concerns is either corrupt or willingly obtuse.

3) Reform =  Union-Busting. The erosion of teacher workplace protections runs parallel with the erosion of union power. Bob Braun's latest report about the betrayal of Newark's teachers is simply the latest assault on the collective bargaining rights of educators.

In North Carolina, the destruction of teaching as a profession continues apace. The war in Chicago between the plutocratic backers of the insufferably smug Jonah Edelman and the Chicago Teachers Union continues to rage. The kangaroo court Vergera trial in Los Angeles, funded by wealthy tech barons, is an outright assault on workplace protections for teachers. 

The Waltons, of course, have a huge vested interest in destroying unionism in all its forms. But all aristocrats benefit from a wage market that favors the capital holders over labor. Breaking down the teachers unions is simply good business.

So we've got three concrete reasons for "reforminess." But there's one more: far more subtle, but, in the end, far more pernicious.

4) The owners of this country do not want a population of citizens capable of critical thought.

Our current economic system -- which has become a parody of capitalism -- can't survive unless it has workers who have been trained to think it's the natural course of events that a tiny few keep all the money for themselves while everyone else scuffles. Our bread-and-circuses media is tasked with keeping us fixated on peripheral nonsense like "social issues" and meaningless scandals, all while the wholesale transfer of wealth in this country from the working poor and middle-class to the rich takes place with barely a peep of dissent.

Our education system is continually being aligned with the economic priorities of the ruling classes: preparing students for a society where they should be "college or career ready," as opposed to "citizenship ready." Training them to think convergently instead of divergently. Evaluating them on whether they get the same answer as everyone else, not on whether they can see more deeply and find the hidden patterns that make our country tick. Ranking them with standardized assessments that consign them to both economic and social castes.

Bill Moyers hosted an essay this week from Mike Lofgren, a former Congressional staffer, about the "deep state": a shadow government hidden by a phony partisan debate where corporate interests have essentially commandeered our public institutions for their own ends. Lofgren's theory is solid, but incomplete, because he doesn't really offer an explanation for why the public allows this state of affairs to continue.

Again, the media plays a part -- a big part. But so does a public education system that increasingly makes common cause with wealthy corporate interests. That system, more and more, has inculcated a value system in its students and parents that places consumerist choice over democratic values like self-rule. It ranks and sorts students at the earliest ages into various socio-economic classes, then pretends that it offers class mobility. It devalues creativity and critical thinking in favor of lower-order thinking skills.

And it is a system the ruling class does not allow their own children to participate in: they either send their kids to private schools, or suburban public schools so segregated and well-resourced that the accountability measures imposed on the districts of the working poor and middle classes are little more than an annoyance.

That is the real status quo: a socioeconomically stratified society, largely (but not entirely) divided along racial lines, that is first and foremost interested in its own reproduction. And public education, as dictated by the reformy plutocrats, is a primary means of maintaining that status quo.

That is the "end game." Right, George?

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying -- lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want -- they want MORE for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They DON'T want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that, that doesn't help them. That's against their interests. That's right. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting ****** by system that threw them overboard 30 ******' years ago. They don't want that. You know what they want? They want OBEDIENT WORKERS. OBEDIENT WORKERS. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly ******** jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Jazzman Speaks! This Saturday, 2/22, Rutgers-Newark

Hey, check out this guy:

Saturday, 2/22/14, 10 AM, on the beautiful Rutgers-Newark campus. Free admission, real talk, good times. Sleeping in is overrated anyway...

Thanks to Kaleena for making this happen, and to Junius Williams for the invitation. Hope you can make it.

Shocking: Baraka Consults Knowledgable People on Education

Sorry the posting's been light; it's been a crazy busy week. But I don't want to let too much time pass before telling you about my Monday with Ras Baraka.

Baraka is currently in a two-man race for mayor of Newark; in my view, it's probably the most interesting political contest in the country between now and the mid-term Congressional elections (yes, this Jersey boy is biased). Baraka's opponent, Shavar Jeffries, has become the de facto choice of the North Jersey political machine -- the same Democrats who have aligned themselves with Republican Governor Chris Christie.

The head of the Essex Democrats is a fellow named Joseph DiVincenzo, although everyone calls him "Joe D." He outright endorsed Christie before Bridgegate; now, he's got egg on his face (but not enough, apparently, to keep the Democratic state infrastructure from lining up to support him). But there's more to the Newark race than a simple power play.

Education has emerged as the biggest issue, and the reign of State Superintendent Cami Anderson has galvanized support in the city for a return to local control. Bob Braun, who knows Jersey politics better than anyone, puts the mayoral race and Newarks' schools into context:

Newark’s voters won’t be able to stop Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to close and sell off the city’s neighborhood public schools and expand charters unless they elect Ras Baraka mayor. That is not an endorsement. That’s not even an opinion.  That’s a fact.  Baraka has turned the election into a referendum on Christie’s privatization policies and, if Baraka loses, the governor and his agent in Newark, Cami Anderson, will use his loss as a powerful argument to continue to bulldoze public schools in the city. Even if Baraka wins, it will just be the beginning of the effort to stop selling and closing Newark schools.
Baraka and the city’s public school supporters face a tough fight.  Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, the turncoat Democrat who campaigned for Christie last fall, will do whatever he can to stop Baraka. So will the rest of the Essex Democratic party organization. The big money—from Republicans as well as Democrats, from Essex County, the rest of New Jersey, and even from outside New Jersey—will be flowing to Shavar Jeffries’ campaign to stop Baraka.
As usual, Bob gets right to the heart of the matter: under Anderson, the Newark Public Schools are being turned over to private interests. The only way to stop that is to put pressure on Anderson and demand a return to local control; remember, NPS has now been under state rule for 19 years, and the elected school board has no say over operations or administrative personnel.

But there's another twist: one of DiVincenzo's most prominent proteges is State Senator Teresa Ruiz, chairperson of the education committee. Ruiz was the architect of TEACHNJ, the tenure "reform" bill that, rightly or wrongly, has given Christie the ability to claim his education schemes are bipartisan. Ruiz has shown more than a little buyer's remorse about how Christie is implementing TEACHNJ; now she and the other Christiecrats must be looking at Anderson's increasingly unpopular One Newark plan -- which calls for school closings and charter takeovers -- and worrying about how to give themselves some distance away from it.

So what we have is a race between Baraka -- who stands firmly against state control, Anderson, and One Newark -- and Jeffries, who, like Ruiz and the rest of Joe D's Democratics, has to somehow perform the magic trick of showing sympathy to the concerns of parents who reject One Newark and toeing the party line.

So far, Jeffries has meekly intoned that there should be at least a temporary halt to One Newark. His criticisms of Anderson and her plan have been tepid, at best:
"We can't have a small number of people in Trenton decide what is best for our children, and when and if they will engage our community," said Jeffries, a former Newark school board member. "People have to decide what ethos they want in the people they represent. That's one of the things we have to decide tonight.

"There is too much in the One Newark plan at once. You can't identify what works," Jeffries continued. "There are some good things in the plan, but we can't be closing eight to twelve schools all at the same time. The superintendent needs to do better. If not, we have to get a new superintendent."

Jeffries added that the relationship between Newark's public educational leadership should be similar to "a good marriage."

"Even the best of marriages end up in divorce," Baraka replied. "If we say we have to get rid of bad teachers, why cant we say we have to get rid of a bad superintendent? It doesn't make sense to me."
No word on what Jeffries thinks is "good" in the One Newark plan.

The reaction to Baraka's criticism's of the NPS-state administration has been predictable -- especially in the op-ed pages of the reformy Star-Ledger:
Newark will elect a new mayor in May, and that has fueled tensions as well. Ras Baraka, a city councilman and high school principal, is the favorite to win and the biggest threat to Anderson’s reforms. He has no credible reform plan of his own, but has scored points by fanning resentment against Anderson. Meanwhile, the president of the school advisory committee, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, has failed to even keep order at public meetings, making it impossible for Anderson to make her case.
But, as usual, the S-L spoke too soon -- which brings us back to this past Monday, when I and several other edu-bloggy types met with Baraka before he unveiled his education blueprint for Newark. The first thing you need to know about Baraka's education plan is that it was actually written by people who know what the hell they are talking about. That's a refreshing change from what we usually get in Jersey these days, especially from outlets like the S-L op-ed page.

Baraka himself is a veteran teacher and principal; at Central High, he formed community partnerships that helped to boost the graduation rate by 30%*. Baraka brags that, in a "choice" environment, he's managed to keep the enrollment high at his school without resorting -- as many of the charters have -- to putting out ads on billboards and buses.

His three coauthors are also veteran educators. Antoinette "Toni" Baskerville-Richardson is a 30-year NPS teacher who currently serves as the school board president. Dr. Janice Johnson Dias is a sociology professor at CUNY/John Jay College. Dr. Lauren Wells is at NYU, Director of the Broader Bolder Approach in Education.

Listening to these three insightful, experienced, highly-educated women, followed by Baraka, it became clear to me that the biggest problem that we have in American education today is that people who know what they are talking about are too often not given a voice.

Baskerville-Richardson gave an exegesis on the history of NPS that laid bare the utter failure of the state to live up to its promises to Newark's children. Wells made a compelling case, replete with research, about the effects of poverty on education and how schools must be part of a larger, systemic response.  Johnson Dias's sociological perspective explained how a sense of "relatedness" is critical for underserved minority children to have any sense of accomplishment within their school system.

These women weren't selling a quick, reformy fix. They didn't attempt to insult the intelligence of their audience by saying that "poverty is an excuse." They didn't distort the data to show that closing schools, characterization, and test-based teacher evaluation will somehow solve the problems of urban education. Instead, they told the truth about the hard, difficult work ahead of the next mayor of Newark -- and Baraka has clearly listened.

I'll talk some more about Baraka and his plan in a bit, but let me end for now with this:

Our national education dialog has, for the most part, marginalized the very people we should be listening to the most: educators and education researchers. Instead, we allow hacks, snake oil salesmen, political "chess players," think-tanky types, willingly obtuse pundits, and shamelessly hypocritical politicians to dominate the debate.

It speaks volumes about Ras Baraka's true commitment to Newark's children that he has cast these educational tourists aside in favor of those who have made it their life's work to either teach children or understand the dynamics that shape their lives. That alone ought to be enough for the good people of Newark to cast their vote for Baraka.

More in a bit.

Ras Baraka: a fellow public school educator and public school parent.

* This is from my notes, but I think Baraka might have meant "30 percentage points," not 30 percent. You know me: I'll look into it...

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?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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:

 Dale Chu 

 Chris Cerf: "This is a knife fight in a dark rm. We haven't shown courage & we've been nibbling at edges." 

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 dayNot 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 releasedIt’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.
Christie, 4/19/10:
"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.
Christie, 11/1/13:

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.
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]
#2: I Got Friends In Low Places 
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.