An archive of articles and listserve postings of interest, mostly posted without commentary, linked to commentary at the Education Notes Online blog. Note that I do not endorse the points of views of all articles, but post them for reference purposes.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Haimson on Cerf - and Randi
This morning features an extended front-age story on Chris Cerf in the Newark Star Ledger. Cerf has beenappointed to be NJ Commissioner of Education, and is intent on implementing many of the same divisive policies in NJ that featured his time in NYC, including charter school expansion and co-location.
Cerf, who is now embroiled in the same sort of conflict of interest charges and allegations of dishonesty that marred his time in NYC, with a NJ Senator saying his will block his nomination, says: “ while he has found the negative publicity bruising and "profoundly unfair," he has no plans to step down, describing his motivation to reform education as something "spiritual."
The article omits many of the controversial activities he was involved in, including taping Diane Ravitch at events, mounting a “Truth squad” and getting his expanding press office to closely monitor his critics, including this list serv.
Despite this “spiritual” calling he viciously attacks Tim Johnson, parent and former head of CPAC.
“In an e-mail, [Cerf] called him [Johnson] a "pathetic, two-bit player" and a "stooge" for the United Federation of Teachers.”
What did Tim do? He had the nerve to question him about his Edison stock at a CPAC meeting – something that Tim seems to be the only person in NYC with the temerity to do.
At the CPAC meeting, Cerf said he had divested himself of his Edison stock, w/out revealing that he had done so by email just that morning, after getting word he would be asked about it by Tim. He was later investigated by the special investigator , who found several inconsistencies in his story, and he ended up being cited by the Conflict of Interest board for several issues, including soliciting funds from Edison for one of his charities in exchange for giving up the stock.
This report was suppressed until I FOILed for a copy and leaked it to Juan Gonzalez.
Yet despite calling Tim a “stooge” for the UFT, something that no one who knows Tim and his fearless independence would ever believe, Randi Weingarten, former head of the UFT, appears as his number one supporter:
…. the union’s president at the time, Randi Weingarten, credits Cerf more than any other member of the administration with having the flexibility to work with teachers and not against them. Cerf also always made clear that children were his first priority, Weingarten said.
"Chris and I have had in our times some fierce ideological fights, but what we agree on is that kids deserve a shot in life," said Weingarten, now president of the American Federation of Teachers, with more than 1 million members nationwide. "I found him to be smart and caring and a terrific problem-solver."
N.J. acting schools chief faces questions about transparency, imperiling his confirmation
John Munson/The Star-LedgerActing Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf attends Newark Mayor Cory Booker's State of the City Address at NJPAC in this March 1 file photo.
TRENTON — In February 2007, Christopher Cerf was a newly hired deputy chancellor in the New York City school system when he was asked at a public forum to describe his financial interest in Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit education company he once headed.
"I’d be delighted to do that," Cerf replied, according to a published account of the meeting. "I have no financial interest in Edison of any kind. Zero."
Asked by the president of a parents group when he had relinquished the shares, Cerf said he would be "delighted" to provide his financial disclosure form.
Then he clammed up.
What Cerf declined to volunteer is that he had given up the shares just the day before.
In fact, Cerf was under no obligation to rescind his stake in Edison. But his unwillingness to fully answer the question that day would lead to unflattering headlines, public criticism and an investigation by the school system’s Special Commissioner of Investigation.
Four years later, the man who represents perhaps the most important nomination of Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure is again facing questions about his openness, imperiling his confirmation as education commissioner at a time when the governor has made education reform one of his top priorities.
A Star-Ledger examination encompassing dozens of interviews, along with a review of public and private documents, shows Cerf is known as a gifted educator, a strategic thinker and a tireless advocate for children. His fans include a retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice and the union head he sparred with over several years in New York.
But the reporting also shows Cerf can be thin-skinned, quick-tempered and, at times, less than forthcoming, even when the answers to questions could hardly be seen as damaging. Late last month, when The Star-Ledger found that Cerf had formed a consulting company that received a $500,000 contract, paid for by private donations, to perform an assessment of the Newark schools, the acting commissioner said he severed his relationship with the firm "literally right after its formation."
"I never actually did anything with it, so I’m not in any way, shape or form related to it," he said at the time.
Cerf has since provided a fuller accounting of his role with the company, Global Education Advisors, acknowledging he did some work on the assessment.
He maintains he received no compensation for his brief period of work and calls his association with the company a "trivial and inconsequential part of my background."
Separately, state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) says Cerf lied to him in a conversation, contending the acting commissioner denied having close ties to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, with whom Rice does not get along. Cerf has long had an interest in the Newark schools and has been described as an informal adviser to Booker on education issues.
In a series of telephone interviews and in dozens of e-mails to Star-Ledger reporters and editors, Cerf said he has done nothing inappropriate, bristling at the suggestion he would ever leverage public office for private gain. He also denied misleading Rice, saying the two have had several "open and candid conversations about a range of issues."
"I have always been forthright with the senator," Cerf said.
Asked about Booker, Cerf declined to characterize his relationship with the mayor.
Christie has accused Rice of playing politics with the nomination, and a spokesman for the governor said Christie stands firmly behind his pick.
Cerf, for his part, said that while he has found the negative publicity bruising and "profoundly unfair," he has no plans to step down, describing his motivation to reform education as something "spiritual."
"We live in a country where the founding principle is equality of opportunity," Cerf said. "What we say is, ‘Let everyone get an equal shot.’ Public education is intended to be the great catalyst of that noble principle, and it is a great big lie for impoverished children, typically children of color and typically children in the urban core, and for whatever reason, I feel I have something to offer. I’m committed to doing it."
HIS OWN EDUCATION
Cerf said he learned the value of education from his family, which included a number of teachers and professors. His father, Jay H. Cerf, earned a doctoral degree from Yale University and taught courses in American government there. He later held several posts with the federal government, including a stint as a deputy assistant secretary in the Commerce Department.
Around 1970, the family left Washington, D.C., for Cambridge, Mass., where Jay Cerf established a successful consulting firm. A teenage Christopher Cerf enrolled at the Commonwealth School, a small, private academy in Boston with an emphasis on diversity and community service.
He later studied history at Amherst College, graduating near the top of his class, before landing his first and only teaching job at the prestigious Cincinnati Country Day School, a private prep school in Ohio.
Fred Carey, Cerf’s former student and now senior dean of students at the school, called him a "natural teacher" who connected quickly with students, engaging and pushing them at the same time.
"He’s one of those guys who would clearly make his mark," Carey said.
After four years in Cincinnati, Cerf left teaching for Columbia Law School. He said he misses teaching and often regrets the decision. If he had misgivings then, it didn’t translate into a lack of success.
Cerf won academic prizes at Columbia and, in his final year, claimed the coveted position of editor at the Columbia Law Review.
The lofty post helped Cerf secure a plum clerkship assignment with a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, James Skelly Wright, in the nation’s capital.
Jerry McCrea/The Star-LedgerNew Jersey Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, 56, of Montclair; as seen in this December 2010 file photo.
A year later, in 1985, he became one of four clerks for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, researching cases and hashing them out verbally over Crock-Pots of chili on Saturday afternoons in the justice’s chambers.
O’Connor called Cerf "superb" and engaging, with a good sense of humor.
"I just wanted a hard worker, a sensible worker, and he was just excellent," she said. "You can’t find any fault with him."
Cerf worked as a lawyer for a decade longer, first with a pair of Washington firms and then as an associate White House counsel under President Clinton.
But he said education kept calling him back. In 1997, he took the job of general counsel for Edison Schools, which had been founded five years earlier with the guiding principle that a private, for-profit company could better educate students — and do it more cheaply — than public schools. By 2001, Cerf was the company’s president.
Under Cerf’s tenure, Edison grew into the largest private-sector manager of public schools, educating some 77,000 students in 150 schools around the country. But its legacy has been decidedly mixed.
Some studies showed stronger achievement gains among Edison-educated students. Othe