Cerf’s Amplify gets $2.3 million from Newark

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Cerf--new Amplify Insight boss
Cerf–new Amplify Insight boss

Cami Anderson, the Christie-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, has awarded three contracts worth $2.3 million to Amplify Education, Inc.—a company that, in a few days, takes on a new  executive, New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, Anderson’s immediate boss.

When Cerf announced he was leaving Feb. 10, he told The Star-Ledger he didn’t know whether Amplify had been hired in New Jersey, although he “suspected” it might have. He said he was sure the state hadn’t hired the company, whose chief executive is Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor and Cerf’s former boss.  Anderson, of course, is the state’s agent  in control of the city’s school district, taken over  by the state in 1995.

Cerf said he saw no conflict in taking the job because “regulations” forbid former state employees from trading on their jobs.  Two days before The Star-Ledger story, I reported teachers sent me evidence Amplify was working in Newark and Jersey City, both takeover districts.

Amplify is the new name given to Wireless Generation, a  Brooklyn consulting firm best known in New Jersey for the $500,000 it received in consulting fees to put together the state’s application for $400 million in Race to the Top money. The application was denied because of clerical errors and some New Jersey legislators blamed Wireless Generation’s work and demanded it return the fee.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation paid $360 million in cash for Wireless Generation—which, at the time, had a $7.5 million contract with New York. News Corporation owns Fox News, the New York Post, and British newspapers that were found to have hacked into private telephone calls in the United Kingdom.

I obtained the contracts after the Newark Teachers Union filed successful requests under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Individual employees of the school district also provided me with materials showing Amplify has been working for the state-operated district at least since last May. The union shared the materials it obtained through the OPRA request with me.

One contract, dated May 28, 2013, pays Amplify $900,000  for “instructional materials to support educators in the effective delivery of standards-based curriculum.” I already had published a picture of one of the books Amplify had sold to the state-operated district in Newark.

A second contract, dated the same day, is for $700,000 is to provide Newark with “professional development to support educators in the effective delivery of standards-based curriculum or the establishment of a highly-effective delivery learning environment.”

A third contract, also for $700,000, is a renewal extending the work with Wireless Generation until 2017. It allows schools to use the company for professional development.

Related materials I obtained show that Amplify is working with the Newark district in helping it comply with the controversial Common Core State Standards. Parent organizations and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) have asked Cerf and the state Board of Education to slow down on the imposition of those standards—and related high-stakes testing—but Cerf has pushed ahead with adopting the standards. At the same time, Cerf’s new employer was working with the state-operated district to implement the new standards.

Cerf will head Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify Education, Inc. Amplify Education is headed by Klein. The NTU’s OPRA request also asked for documents showing Newark’s work with Amplify Insight and the state-operated district indicated no documents were available.

However, it may be a distinction without a difference. Some of the contract materials with Newark were signed by Zachary Silverstein. He is identified as the president of Amplify Insight.  All Amplify companies are tightly related to each other.

The contract materials also show another connection.  In its proposal to the Newark public schools, Amplify boasts of its success with a pilot program it operated in New York City’s District 79 during the 2010-2011 school year.

At the time,  Cami Anderson was superintendent of District 79.

Cerf did not respond to an emailed message asking for comment.

33 comments

  1. Chane

    Cerf’s correct. He didn’t profit from this “after” he left office, he profited while still in office. He will argue “no pay check, no profit” however, this is still severely ethically challenged.

  2. David Levitt

    I hope you’ll consider submitting your best 2013 columns in NJSPJ’s online commentary category in our contest this year. Deadline’s March 10.
    David Levitt, contest coordinator

    Bob Braun: Sounds like a great idea to me. Thanks for telling me about this and the deadline.

  3. Joe

    Gee, $700,000 here, $700,000 there and you’re starting to talk about real money. I guess her highness Cami will have to fire another 1,000 teachers so that she can satisfy all the Amplify contracts. Amplify comes first and those “pesky” teachers come last.

  4. Michael Fiorillo

    In yet another installment of the reality show known as “Accountability Is Just For the Little People,” Cerf fails upward, despite everything the man has ever touched turning to s#%€.

    Perhaps that is what he is brought in to do.

    He’s a one-man train wreck and Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, starting with Edison Schools, which despite it’s political juice, has done nothing but fail and fail again.

    That’s OK though: in so-called education reform, failure and destruction are the point.

  5. Sal Rosetti

    Bob,

    How can this stuff be happening in this state. Are there no ethics among these people??? Is there no outrage by the people in this state outside of Newark?? These people that cheer Chris the bully at these town meetings are they blind, deaf and dumb??? Do these public officials have not shame or any honesty at all. Tell me Bob before I lose my mind!!!!!

  6. Mr. Outside

    Bob,

    A major point to cite here is that Amplify was recently awarded a $12.5 million dollar contract by the Common Core Testing Consortium, the non-governmental entity responsible for the widely adopted Common Core State Standards. Amplify will develop and distribute Common Core aligned standardized tests.

    What this shows is that Amplify is collecting revenue from Newark as a provider of teaching content, a provider of professional development services, a provider of teacher evaluation services, and a provider of standardized testing.

    This begs a question. If Cerf is the new CEO, who will be his right-hand man or woman? Because his predecessor isn’t leaving Amplify, just operating another branch of the company.

    And also, I would imagine it would be difficult for Cami to attend future SBA meetings if she’s busy working for Amplify.

    • C Nelson

      There needs to be ethical measures (oops…there are no ethical requirements) put in place. (As a professional I am bound to practice ethically !). NO cronyism allowed, three bid contracts only, an over-site committee that includes the public, teachers and outside experts, all jobs for govt. administrative positions must be applied for and candidates selected on their experience and agree to transparency. Truth in advertizing for polititians! Your promise it ….you follow through. NO bait and switch! The problem is that the fox is in charge of the hen house right now. The good old boys club has got to stop!

  7. Mr. Outside

    Also, it now makes clear why Cerf was so strongly opposed to undergraduate online service provider k12 being granted an operating charter in the state. K12, an online k-12 school with the same offerings, could be considered a direct competitor to Amplify.

  8. Chane

    “The contract materials also show another connection. In its proposal to the Newark public schools, Amplify boasts of its success with a pilot program it operated in New York City’s District 79 during the 2010-2011 school year.At the time, Cami Anderson was superintendent of District 79.” Are they going to try and pass that off as a coincidence?

  9. NPS teacher

    Meanwhile teachers, tell me what you think of the Amplify curriculum (Core Knowledge). In my opinion it is the worst bunch of drivel. It doesn’t teach kids to read, the kids can’t relate to the stories (Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in 2nd grade????) and it completely destroys any teaching creativity.

  10. Boriquabella

    Teachers, take this non-fiction text to school and use it with your students. Common Core Standard for Social Studies 6.3.12.A.1: Develop a plan for public accountability and transparency in government related to a particular issue(s) and share the plan with appropriate government officials.

  11. Educator

    I’m sure Chris “what is social media” Cerf has a very strong background in educational technology. That’s the real reason he was hired at Amplify. Not to take advantage of the four people he placed into the Superintendent’s office in Paterson, Newark, JC and Camden. No way, that would be borderline unethical.

  12. NPS TEACHER

    This administration along with her darling Cami in Newark fought veteran teachers like me over nickles and dimes when the contract was signed! For a middle of the road teachers, they destroyed our salary scale for the next four years with the help of the Union and the Chirstycrats! Meanwhile, they don’t seem to have a problem shelling millions of dollars over to their friends!

    Adding insult to injuries, they “the Newark administrators” are being pressured by Cami and her crew to weed out veteran teachers in an effort to save money only to divert it to the consultants!

    ITS TIME TO MOVE ON…..

  13. second grade teacher

    I work in a NY district that bought the Amplify series. Some of it is okay. However most of the k-2 materials are developmentally inappropriate. For this kind of money(or less) they should just pay real teachers to create a curriculum that actually works. If you check out Amplify their testing was done in schools that had no formal ELA program. Isn’t it amazing that their scores increased after using Amplify….really???

    • NJGS

      I kept telling people that I didn’t think Commissioner Cerf would approve the waiver once he announced he would be working for Amplify because I felt it would be a conflict of interest. Others told me it wasn’t a conflict, but I thought and still think it has to be. Regardless of why or why the waiver wasn’t signed or wouldn’t be signed or was withdrawn, I am happy for now. What I am concerned about is it will come back up again and/or other means will be put in place to try and get rid of seniority.

      I teach the Common Core Curriculum to my students and I agree with the other teachers that posted that this program is age inappropriate, in addition to taking the creativity out of the teacher’s hands. The teachers are locked into this program. The students are bored. The material is not designed to teach the students to read and/or write. I feel like we have lessened the expectations for the students. I want to bring in rich age appropriate read aloud materials and can’t. I want to do a morning message and can’t. There is so much that I had been doing in the past, and can no longer do because of this poorly written and designed curriculum.

      I just want to be able to teach and have my students learn. Maybe the intent of this curriculum, along with the Common Core Standards, was pure, but the outcome is very different when applied to the real world of the classroom. Add to this that as a teacher my evaluations are based on the growth improvement of the students and I’m doomed. Not because my students aren’t learning or I’m not teaching, but because the curriculum is poorly designed and age in-appropriate, and there is no room for outside materials to enhance the program built into the curriculum.

      So much is on the line including the students’ education. We are failing our students not because of poor teaching, but because of poor curriculums, and non-teachers and Corporate America driving the education field for the almighty dollar.

      What happened to putting students first?

  14. mikeamatician

    NPS teacher,

    With the unions help??? Really??? PLEASE SHARE specifics, so that I may correct any incorrect notions you may be having… Eagerly waiting…

  15. Pingback: Chris Cerf’s long list of “facts” that aren’t actually facts | teacherbiz
  16. Barret Thomas

    If you really want to see the conspiracy behind this you need to connect Eli Broad’s corporate privatization schemes in there as well. Broad Scholars Pete Gorman and now Chris Cerf are both at the highest levels of Amplify. Throw in the great privatizer Rachel Wolfe from the UK who is a top-level Amplify exec (and whose non-profit was funded by Michael Gove) and you’ve got an international conspiracy to privatize public education. Here’s how it works: Create dubious accountability standards for public education (see McGraw-Hill’s deal with George W. Bush during his administration and see Common Core); sell content and assessment tools aligned to those dubious standards; when standards are actually met you get to redesign your materials and make even more money; until you finally raise the standard to the point that schools can be shown to fail by the data you created from your sold content and assessments; and finally take over said failed schools as a corporation. Voila! You have just forced public education to build it’s own gallows so you can hang it and capture the $500 billion per year industry. Of course, this requires that you have no soul in order to do this. But at least your rich(er)!

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