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.