Feds say Cerf didn’t follow the law–so keep him away from Newark’s children

Cerf--good for Newark's children?
Cerf–good for Newark’s children?

The New Jersey Board of Education meets this morning in private session to discuss the future of Newark schools—and the role former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf will play.  The board has been a rubber stamp for Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed most members, but even  rubber-stamps must have moral and ethical standards. Cerf came to the commissioner’s position earning money privately from Newark’s suffering as a consultant with Global Education Advisers . He left the position to earn money privately as a publisher with Amplify from Newark’s suffering.  And, just a few days ago, the federal government accused Cerf of evading state and federal law and regulations in a way that enhanced the suffering of Newark’s children.

If a majority of the board members votes for Cerf to replace the disgraced Cami Anderson as Newark superintendent, these men and women will show themselves not just to be obsequious and cowardly but also to be without any recognizable sense of right and wrong.

The long story of Cerf’s involvement in education has been carefully documented by the blogger Jersey Jazzman. Read his stuff about Cerf.

I want to write about what just happened.  As reported on my Facebook page, the federal education department found that the state education department—when under Cerf’s leadership—allowed Anderson, the Newark superintendent he hired,  to ignore the procedures the state itself established to identify and assist the most struggling schools in Newark.

The language of the letter from Heather Rieman, an acting assistant US education secretary, is as opaque as English can be while still remaining English. So I will provide a translation, with background, and print the key sentences from the Rieman letter below.  What  happened was this:

New Jersey, like virtually every state, had to apply for a waiver—the feds call it “flexibility– to be excused from meeting all the requirements of the federal education law known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more popularly called  the  No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  If a state promised to take certain actions to help schools, the federal government would drop the harsh sanctions the law demanded—sanctions that might have included closing  nearly half the schools in the state.  New Jersey gave the federal government a plan and the plan was approved. The state and its children would not be punished.

Part of that plan, of course, dealt with Newark. It laid out how the worst-performing schools would be identified and how they would  be helped by the state to improve. Simply put, a state agency  known as the Hudson/Essex Regional Achievement Center, or RAC, would identify low-performing schools,  prescribe solutions, and improve the performance of the schools. With public money.

But Cerf didn’t want to do that—and why is a question the state school board must answer before it imposes him on the children of Newark.  As David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center (ELC) that sought the federal investigation, has pointed out,  Cerf “improperly gave into a demand from Newark’s State-appointed Superintendent, Cami Anderson, to allow her to retain full control over 28 low-performing schools.”

In other words, the children attending those schools were denied the help and services federal and state law required they receive. Their schools were not subjected to a Quality School Reviews (QSR) to determine what the children needed;  their schools did not receive a School Improvement Plan (SIP) to begin improving performance. Although the state had set up an infrastructure for the sole purpose of helping low-performing schools, that infrastructure was not available to Newark’s children.

Anderson and Cerf stole those things from the children  of the city. The children did not get what was, by law,  rightfully theirs. Or, as the statute Christie, when he was a federal prosecutor  frequently used to indict his political rivals, Anderson and Cerf deprived the people and children of the state their “intangible right of honest services.”

They decided on their own—in contravention of state and federal law, regulation, and policy– to give Anderson a free hand to do whatever she wanted to do to “help” the failing Newark schools. That meant hiring millions of dollars worth of consultants, including former associates of Anderson who had gone into the private sector. It meant closing schools and handing them over to privately operated charters—including one Cerf  once served as a trustee. Firing good teachers.  Hiring incompetent, inexperienced administrators.

Teachers are held accountable for the failure of their students. Students are held accountable in the endless rounds of standardized testing. Parents–especially in cities–are blamed for the failures of the children. When will political creatures like Cerf and Anderson be held accountable for their failures?

Cerf and Anderson ran the Newark schools according to dictates of their own ambitions and ideology and they ran those schools into the ground. No one disputes that the signature reform imposed by Anderson—so-called “renew schools”–performed worse than they had in prior years. The Alliance for Newark Schools has provided irrefutable proof of Anderson’s failure.

The Newark Teachers Union (NTU) cites Cerf’s testimony in a labor arbitration hearing to provide one possible answer to why Cerf let Anderson ignore the requirements of the ESEA waiver. Cerf left the commissioner’s job in March, 2014, to take a job with the publishing and testing company known as Amplify.  At the time, Newark had a $2.3 million contract with Amplify. In the testimony cited by the union, Cerf can’t remember how much money the company he was about to join was receiving from a school district that he, as Anderson’s boss, directly supervised.

No competent investigatory agency has looked into Cerf’s private dealings before, while, and after he was commissioner. Christie controls the state attorney general’s office. The US Attorney’s office is now run  by Paul Fishman,  a Casper Milquetoast of a prosecutor when it comes to Christie. The US Department of Education still has six pending complaints sitting before it brought by Newark residents and officials.  There is never any rush when the children of Newark are the ones who need help.

In her letter disclosing to the ELC her findings, Rieman wrote “the Essex/Hudson RAC did not fulfill the responsibilities of a RAC outlined in New Jersey’s ESEA flexibility request with respect to NPS’s Priority and Focus schools.”

Forget the alphabet soup. Forget the language designed to obfuscate. This is what’s true: Cerf and Anderson did not do what they were supposed to do for the children of Newark and now Christie wants Cerf back to finish the job in Newark.

What job? The privatization  of the Newark schools so that friends and associates of Christie, Cerf, and Anderson can continue to profit from charterization of the Newark public schools—a district with a billion dollars a year just waiting to be had by the sharpest entrepreneurs.

To make Newark a New Orleans on the Passaic.

  1. The above cited violations are merely the tip of the iceberg. Renew schools are staffed by TFA and substitutes. Teachers are forced to work outside of their certifications. Special Education students and ELLs do not receive federally mandated services. Renew schools are run like fiefdoms of arrogant principals empowered by the state district superintendent. If Cerf is approved, class action suits should be filed on behalf of the children being deprived of their rights and the teachers whose careers are being ruined by vicious principals.

    1. A disgrace. How they can get away with violating student’s state and federal rights by not providing legally mandated IEP services is just proof of the collusion from NPS to the state to the feds. Parents have the power- if your child is not getting their services go to SPAN and the Rutgers Law Center. As far as I’ve seen. these agencies will make sure that NPS does right by your child…as long as you go the distance. You must go the distance.

  2. Chris Cerf, the poster child for failing upward while loyally serving his greed and power-obsessed patrons…

  3. She didn’t want the RAC, or anyone outside her trusted circle, to have access to the schools of NPS. She was and is paranoid, like most totalitarian dictators.

  4. Cerf is not an educator. He does not have Superintendent credentials from an accredited program. He was never a teacher or a principal. He should be rejected as unqualified.
    Maybe he could be a dentist. Check with the dental board.

    Bob Braun: He taught in a private country day school. It’s what dilettantes do before they start making money. Institutionalized and funded now as TFA.

    1. Bob – your Cerf Country Day SChool comment is perfect.

      It reminds me that Christie – whose family left Newark in White Flight and sent his kids to Catholic schools and Delbarton – is announcing his Presdential campaign kickoff at a public high school.

      What a disgrace – and the media will give him a pass on that as the blow him up like they did his Blue Fleece after Sandy.

      1. Will NJ Communities United be in Livingston for announcement? Does announcing at high school distract reporters from
        •9 credit downgrades
        •unemployment that’s ~45/50 states
        •attorney governor proposing pension legislation that’s “not constitutional”?

    2. Bob – you should take a look at the Dodge Foundation and some of their “county day school” dilettantism.

  5. Christie made the pension law and then violated it. Why would you expect them to honor the waiver they got? They do what they want. And, as you said, the wording was very opague. Sounded kind of like, if you make a new plan, we’ll probably go along with it…we just have to see something (to cover our ass). State colludes with NPS…Feds collude with state. No one really wants to do anything but everyone wants to look like they’re doing the right thing. Subterfuge.

  6. Bob – your translation is superb.

    CHristie is playing the same game of blowing off federal requirements and installing his own failed alternatives in the environmental policy.

    Like the federal Dept. of Education, the EPA also os looking the other way and Christie’s DEP flouts federal requirements with failed state voluntary feel good measures.

    One of the best examples is Barnegat Bay and the federal Clean Water Act.

  7. Yes, this is the end game:

    “To make Newark a New Orleans on the Passaic.”

    Except instead of Katrina, Newark got hit by Christie.

    Christie is a perfect example of what Naomi Klein wrote about in her book The Shock Doctrine – Disaster capitalism

  8. Bob – “New Jersey gave the federal government a plan and the plan was improved” – should read approved?

    Bob Braun: Yes, thank you for catching that.

  9. […] Cami and Chris Cerf spent millions of dollars on consultancies owned by their friends whose assessments of NPS produced no important outcomes […]

  10. […] Braun shares reasons why neither Christie nor his staff have fallen under legal scrutiny for the terrible things they’ve done to public […]

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