Saturday, June 29, 2013

Charter School Hustling 101, Old School Miami Style

UPDATE:  Please sign the petition I created asking Arne Duncan to cancel his appearance at The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools Conference with Pitbull.

A few days ago I posted a picture I stumbled across when doing some research on the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools website.

Their conference starts tomorrow in DC, and the lineup of keynote speakers, as you can see above, is downright bizarre. Jersey Jazzman, musician that he is, took a look at Pitbull's lyrics, and it paints a pretty ugly picture of Pitbull's attitude towards women. In fact, I'd dare say it depicts him as a misogynist.

Being the researcher that I am, I dug a bit more to see if I could find anything to confirm that Pitbull's attitude toward the female gender is less than exemplary.

And I didn't have to look too far. If you care to watch the following short video from Pitbull's TV show la esquina, you will see a clip of an episode where Pitbull paraded contestants for his "Miss 305" pageant to his posse. It's a truly tasteless display, and makes quite clear that Pitbull sees women as sex objects and little else.

But the episode titled Hustling 101 really takes the cake.
It's book smarts vs. street smarts when Fademaster bets Chingo that he can sell more merchandise on the street – even if Chingo has the help of a college graduate with a marketing degree. (emphasis mine)

It starts at the 8:00 minute mark, and it's a PAINFUL six and a half minutes. The female "college graduate with the marketing degree" (who is seductively panned head to toe by the camera) attempts to help Chingo sell his wares by using marketing strategies to inform the public about his products.  

Fademaster just calls up a hot girl and has her dance. If you want her to keep dancing, you have to buy something. 

Fademaster wins.

Pitbull congratulates Fademaster, saying:
"He did it old school Miami style. 2 Live Crew, put them in a bathing suit and let them do what they do." (emphasis mine)
yeah, THAT 2 Live Crew
Women shouldn't bother with a college degree and charts and graphs. In Pitbull's estimation they should just put on a bathing suit and "do what they do."

It is simply mind boggling that Pitbull has been given a charter school in Miami.  It's called called SLAM! 
Sports Leadership and Management Charter Middle/High School’s mission is to provide an innovative, in-depth educational program preparing students for secondary studies and beyond through an emphasis of sports-related career preparation. 
The school philosophy is the mechanism through which the mission will be achieved. In order to produce college bound and career-oriented graduates, the school believes it must provide Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships in the educational program. (emphasis mine)
Relationships? His charter school will focus on relationships? Let's hope the folks tasked with running the day to day operations of this charter have more respect for young women than Pitbull, and don't also subscribe to doing things "old school Miami style." 

Pitbull is paving the way for a new kind of "street smart" hustler to cash in on charter schools.  Looks like he'll give the "book smart" Wall Street hustlers a real run for their money.

But as we know all too well, in the end it's the students and parents who really get hustled.

Arne Duncan should pull out of this conference IMMEDIATELY. For the Secretary of Education to share a stage with Pitbull as a  charter school founder and "civic leader" makes a mockery of the entire public education system.  

left: Pitbull's saintly photo to promote the conference
right: Pitbull's not so saintly photo after a 3:00 am arrest in Miami

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Education Bloggers; Filling The Education Journalism Void

I was fortunate to spend last night in the company of some amazing people, including the incomparable NYC teacher bloggers Gary Rubinstein and Arthur Goldstein, at the Class Size Matters 5th Annual Skinny Awards

If you have not checked out their work, please do. They are both tireless public education advocates, using their blogs to bring attention to issues ignored by the ever dwindling corps of mainstream education reporters.

Gary wrote and delivered, as Diane Ravitch described it on her own blog, an "hysterical spoof... to describe the terrible crisis stalking the land: mediocre education journalism"  

Watch for yourself. 

Those of us engaged in this movement have no big financial backers. We blog, organize and lobby in an attempt to right the wrongs we see inflicted upon public schools by the corporate education movement. We are the true Davids, and our blog posts are the rocks we toss at the Goliaths out to dismantle public education.

Words do have power.  And the nationwide dearth of education reporting is allowing corporate interests that both own the papers AND spearhead ed reform efforts, (yeah, I'm looking at YOU George Norcross!!) to drown out the voices of those of us who still believe in public education.

This is why we need education bloggers like Gary and Arthur. Bloggers who can't be bought and won't be silenced. 

Here in NJ, we too have a formidable line-up of nationally recognized education bloggers. The prolific and pointed Jersey Jazzman offers incomparable insights on all things education, while the scholarly yet searing Bruce Baker debunks topics like charter superiority and VAM reliability with aplomb. 

And every once in a while, when I'm not chasing twin six year olds, I try to throw in my two cents worth and shake things up a bit.

Long live the education bloggers!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Step Right Up For Phase Two Of The New Jersey Charter Circus!!

Step right up ladies and gentlemen!

The NJDOE announced yesterday which charter applications will move on in the application process! Thirteen have been invited to submit Phase Two applications in July, including the two I wrote about back in April.

FOC Pastor McDuffie
Former Assemblyman Gerald Luongo's Creative Visions Charter School and "Friend of Christie" (FOC) Pastor Michael McDuffie's Mathematical Innovation Generates Higher Technology (MIGHT) Leadership Charter School (ten bucks to ANYONE that can help me make sense of that word salad name!) have both been tapped.

It's no big secret that if you have connections in this state, you are almost guaranteed a charter. To hell with the traditional public schools! New Jersey needs innovation, and charters need autonomy to be innovative. But never fear, if a charter misuses that autonomy to fleece taxpayers and fail children, it will be shut down.

Whew. I know I feel much better, don't you?

And even if the NJDOE is out of control at least we still have a handful of legislators willing to stand up for traditional public schools. You know, the ones that serve ALL kids.

Here's a snippet from the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, when the Commissioner came before them to discuss the funding impact of charters on districts.
The only question I might have of you -- and it's not meant to be insolent or anything along those lines. I happen to support public education adamantly in the State of New Jersey, having been a product of that and being an educator for over 35 years. 
I don't have any fault with your idea of competition, but I must question the fact that if the public schools have had the autonomy and the less of a stranglehold that the Department of Education has exerted over them over the years, we, too, would have been as creative, as innovative as the charter schools are permitted to be. 
Choice is a wonderful thing, but I think you're saying the parents know the best. This is just a prelude to vouchers. Soon we will just give the parents a voucher and go to any school you want. And is that really the goal of public education? 
You can make the public schools a lot better if we had that same kind of latitude that you are giving to the charter schools. And I think that had we had the opportunity to be that innovative or that creative with the same option of selecting students to go here or there -- a lottery-- The public schools open their doors. The kids come in the way they are. They are given a responsibility that no one else has to do. We have to take the child that we are given. That's my only concern about the charter schools. And I am very concerned about taking the public's money into these charter schools. That's the only thing. Because I think we're having enough problems funding the public schools at the level we should be doing, and I think we need to address that issue, also. That's just my opinion. (emphasis mine)
Who is this wise member of the Assembly?  Why, that would be Gerald Luongo, the force behind the Creative Visions Charter School.  But this was way back in 1999 when he was still a member of the Assembly and Mayor of Washington Township.

What happened?  How did Luongo go from staunch defender of the public schools to charter entrepreneur? 

By way of federal prison.
In November 2001, he pleaded guilty to taking nearly $36,000 from his campaign fund and a township charity for his personal use, including vacation rentals, family dinners, and home cable service. Five months later, a federal judge sentenced Luongo to 13 months in prison on mail fraud and other charges.
After spending nearly a year in a Florida federal prison camp, he was released in May 2003 and returned to education. A year and a half ago, he said, he opened Academic Solutions Academy.
But a spokeswoman for the Broward County School District, which approves charter schools there, said the school did not open for the 2012-13 academic year because it did not provide a certificate of occupancy on time. Moreover, said spokeswoman Tracy Clark, Luongo is not a founder of the school or a member of its governing board.
Asked by The Inquirer about the discrepancy, Luongo said he had sent a letter to the district threatening legal action if it did not recognize him as a legitimate partner in the project.
Luongo said he wanted to build charter schools in several states to cement his legacy.
He is barred from teaching in New Jersey. In 2007, the state Department of Education's Board of Examiners, citing his guilty plea, revoked Luongo's licenses as a teacher, principal, and school business administrator.
As president of Creative Visions Charter School Inc., Luongo said, he would also market the school in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and other states, and would not be involved in day-to-day operations.
"I really believe I want to leave something significant that I can put my imprint on," Luongo, who now lives in Pompano Beach, Fla., said in an interview. "I feel like education is where I belong." (emphasis mine)
So Luongo's been barred from being a teacher or an administrator in the public schools because he pled guilty to embezzling both campaign and charitable funds. I can totally empathize with the fact that the guy has served his time, and feels like education is where he belongs, but giving him a charter school would be insane. 

Perhaps to stem the tide of doubt, Luongo claimed he'd already opened a charter in Florida.  See, Florida saw fit to give him a charter, why not his home state of New Jersey? Because the Public Information Officer for the prospective district of the still unopened charter says he wasn't actually one of the founders.  

Is this really what the NJDOE means when they talk about "increased autonomy?" If you lose your license to work in NJ public schools you can just claim to be a founder of a charter in another state and then open one in New Jersey to "cement your legacy?"

I thought this was about the kids???

Pastor McDuffie has a background in education, too.  

Well, sort of.  He runs something called the School of intensified training and understanding (SITU).  SITU offers classes and instructional DVD's on a wide range of, ahem, very interesting and unusual topics...

I seriously am at a loss. How is someone who runs a unique... supernatural... "training and equipping school in Biblical and wise kingdom development" (notice the same word salad feel - another 10 bucks to anyone who can translate this) qualified to run a charter school with PUBLIC TAXPAYER DOLLARS???

Is THIS what we can expect to see MIGHT Charter School teaching Paterson's children?

"why were u 1 out of 500 million sperms called and chosend?"

Nice work Commissioner Cerf.  You've officially proven that the NJDOE Office of Charter Schools is a complete and utter circus.
Gerald Luongo and Pastor McDuffie,
my Commissioner of Education has chosend YOU!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Parent Advocacy Group With Ties To K12 Inc. Takes Me On

I received a very interesting comment on my most recent post about K12 Inc.  It came from Esthere Tolbert, the mom who testified before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools and participated in a demonstration for legislators. 

Tolbert participated as part of a group called My post pointed out that this group is directly linked to K12 Inc.. It was widely reported that K12 Inc. hired Princeton Public Affairs Group (PPAG), the "largest state lobbying firm in the country", to lobby for them in NJ. PPAG recently established a public relations firm called Princeton Strategic Communications, (PSC) "a full-service public relations, branding, and graphic design firm."

Norris Clark is a managing partner at PSC and also just happens to be the head of, which is also listed on the PSC website as a client. Unsurprisingly, it was that organized parent testimony and a demonstration for legislators. 

It is not therefore a stretch in any way to conclude that K12 Inc. paid for an astroturf parent advocacy group to influence the legislature. 

Just who AM I crusading for, anyway?

Nowhere in my post did I say a single word to disparage Tolbert herself, and certainly not her son. In fact, I didn't even mention either of their names.  Her name only came up in the post because I re-posted a snippet of a comment Norris Clark left on NJSpotlight regarding Cerf's decision to deny K12 Inc.. 

Here's Tolbert's comment on my blog in it's entirety.
Esthere TolbertJune 11, 2013 at 9:05 PM
Mother Crusader, Please do not belittle me, my son or the many other parents who form NJ Public School Options as "astroturf." Providing legislators with a demonstration of how well virtual learning works for my son, is something we "volunteered" to do, because we know how well it works,and we were proud to demonstrate it for them. We want this as a public school option for ourselves and others as an educational choice. Simple as that!

We have used our own resources, time, money and energy to independently deliver testimonies and presentations to our legislators because we believe in the excellence of education. I want to be perfectly clear, at no time did we ever receive stipends or compensation from any source for our efforts! I would never accept payment for a cause that to me, comes naturally as mother who desires the best education for my child.

As a mother who uses virtual learning on a daily basis to teach my son, I am glad such a dedicated professional as Norris Clark, can help us get things organized, post our concerns on a web page and Facebook as I prefer to spend my time educating my son! It's people like Norris that help us direct and communicate our concerns on educational options for our children. He works for us, and we are working for our kids. You just don't get it, this is not some made up movement, this is an exodus of families in favor of better options for our children.

And just who are YOU crusading for?

- Esthere Tolbert 
Someone please find where I belittle, or call Tolbert or her son astroturf in my post. Calling astroturf and calling a mother and child astroturf are two radically different things. Similarly, nowhere do I state that she took money for her involvement, which makes her vehement denials a bit odd.  

At least Tolbert makes it clear that Norris Clark is indeed a professional, not an advocate.  And while Tolbert may feel like Clark is working for her and her son, he REALLY works for (and is paid by) PPAG.  And PPAG works for K12 Inc.. 

The last line of Tolbert's comment is a direct challenge to me, and one I am happy to answer.

Who am I crusading for?  Certainly, for my own children, just like Tolbert.  But there seems to be one big difference in what inspires our advocacy work. I'm not doing this JUST for them, but for ALL children that rely on public schools to receive a quality education.  

Perhaps NJVACS leader Lorna Bryant said it best in the following video produced by, K12 Inc.. Go to the 3:20 mark, and you will hear her admit that 99% of children will do well in the "traditional" model of education.  So I assume that means she thinks the other 1% are best served virtually.

Ms. Tolbert, I am crusading not only for the 99% of children in the public schools, but also for the large portion of the 1% served by virtuals who DO NOT have a supportive parent such as yourself to serve as both their mom and their "coach," making them "homemade lunches" and chocolate chip cookies while they learn at home.  

MANY of THOSE kids are being failed by K12 Inc..  

In fact, it was just reported that the Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) will part ways with K12 Inc..
Brian Bissell, head of the COVA board, confirmed the change Tuesday. It will go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year. COVA has struggled with poor academic performance in recent years amid questions about K12 Inc.’s management of school resources—including teacher understaffing.
Bissell, who is a K12 Inc. shareholder and has three children enrolled in COVA, says that the school could still use K12’s curriculum but says school leaders have decided that new management is the best option.
“It became clear that at certain points in COVA history the interests of COVA—that is our students and their families, their teachers and Colorado’s taxpayers—these have not always been aligned with K12’s interests,” he said. (emphasis mine)
See, not ALL kids in virtual schools are being well served, Ms. Tolbert.  YOUR son is being well served because, well, he has YOU! And for that I congratulate you.

But Bissell is also a K12 Inc. parent AND he's a stockholder, and he seems no happier with K12 Inc. than I am. He is clearly stating that K12 Inc. is not serving ALL of the students he is responsible for as the head of the COVA board, so they've gotta go.

I'm just trying to avoid this disaster for the kids and taxpayers of NJ. And I couldn't give a hoot about K12 Inc.'s shareholders.

I'm glad your son has such a dedicated and passionate mother, and you've found something that works for him and for you. If all kids had the kind of love and support you are able to provide him there would be little reason to even have this debate. I do not see you as an adversary and my post was not directed at you personally. I sincerely apologize if you felt it was. 

My post was directed at K12 Inc., and their ability to use their money to influence the legislature. 

Simple as that. president wants a piece of me, too!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Tolbert wasn't just taking me on mom-to-mom.  Much of her comment on my blog was re-posted on the website as part of a blog post attributed to Beth Purcell, the President of

Purcell backed up Tolbert, and further misrepresented my post as an attack on the "collective voices" of "other parents in my state."
The fight to grow and expand public school options is hard work and it takes courage. As parents, we are proud to work so hard for an issue as important as our children's education.  There is no other place we would spend our precious time, energy and attention.  But, sometimes, this courage puts parents under attack by our opponents who want to maintain the status quo.
When students and families were recently handed down the tough news that New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf did not approve two virtual charter schools, passionate parents had a lot to say and needed somewhere to say it.  Ironically ... and ... disappointingly, another parent's blog came out against our collective voices.
Esthere, a member of the New Jersey Chapter is a strong parent who proactively took on this ironic attack. Esthere appropriately states, "Please do not belittle me, my son or the many other parents who form NJ Public School Options as "astroturf." Providing legislators with a demonstration of how well virtual learning works for my son, is something we "volunteered" to do, because we know how well it works, and we were proud to demonstrate it for them. We want this as a public school option for ourselves and others as an educational choice. Simple as that!"
Our coalition has enlisted help along the way to help our state coalitions be more effective and ensure they are getting our collective voices heard at the right time, by the right audiences. Just look at photos and stories throughout our blog that show the size, scale and scope of some of our outreach efforts.
We want to work hard and also work smart. Experienced professionals that we have brought on board along the way have helped our parents find a platform to tell their stories and speak out.  Without guidance and support like this, we could still be idling on the sidelines as education policy and funding decisions are made without our input. After all, the forces we are up against are well-funded and have been at this along time.  We are strengthened by providing this support - I cringe at the thought of where we would still be today without being smart about our work to put students first.
In the meantime, we still aren't sure why one parent blogger thinks her voice is legitimate but at the same time attacks other parents in her state for doing the same. (emphasis mine)
Beth Purcell
Looks like Norris Clark has wised up, and now he's leaving the posting to the actual parents.  

While that's a step in the right direction, it doesn't change the fact that K12 Inc. paid a lobbying firm with a newly launched PR arm to influence the legislature, and instead of doing it directly, they did it under the guise of 

To then attempt to pit parents against each other is ugly and unnecessary.  

Ms. Purcell, I ask you, when did I attack a fellow parent?  I called out Mr. Clark for being a hired gun for K12 Inc..  

But Ms. Purcell, I'm confused by something. Hopefully you can clarify.

I've reviewed Princeton Public Affairs Group's Lobbyist Reports for 2011 and 2012 . K12 Inc. has shelled out over $60,000 per year for PPAG's services, but I don't see on their list of clients. Here are images from the reports in case you don't feel like clicking the link and searching the reports.



Does your organization pay Mr. Clark to help parents "tell their stories and speak out" or does K12 Inc.?

Just a simple question.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Et Tu Anthony Weiner?

Diane Ravitch just posted that Anthony Weiner is already cozying up to the charter folks in his bid for Mayor of New York City, and offering up free space to charters co-located with public schools.

When I read her post I instantly remembered that John Mooney recently reported that Barbara Morgan, "public information officer and state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s press secretary," had left the NJDOE to become Weiner's spokeswoman.  

Weiner is apparently quite smitten with Morgan.
Mr. Weiner has been slowly hammering together a campaign team, hiring Barbara Morgan, a former spokesman for the city’s Department of Education, whom he described as “a rock star,” as his spokeswoman. 
Did you catch that?  So Morgan was also the spokeswoman of the New York City Department of Education.  Actually, she was at the NYC DOE from June 2009 to May 2012, and then she left to come to New Jersey to work with Commissioner Cerf.

So Morgan knows her way around two of the reformiest DOE's in the country, and the fact that Weiner was one of only two candidates to show up at this forum hosted by charter advocates Families for Excellent Schools, seems to be a clear signal that Morgan may try to steer Weiner in a reformy direction.
The campaign of Bill Thompson, the former comptroller, told Families for Excellent Schools today that he would not be able to make the forum, which is one of the first times that charter school advocates will get a chance to ask questions of the candidates. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also backed out of attending the forum at the last minute.
Sure makes you wonder why two candidates backed out with little notice.

Christine Quinn was the only other attendee at the FES event, and she sandbagged an education forum hosted by ParentVoicesNY and moderated by Diane Ravitch.
The mayoral candidates have appeared together at dozens of forums on wide-ranging topics this year. But this is not the first time that a mayoral candidate has dropped out of an education forum shortly beforehand. Last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn skipped a forum hosted by ParentVoicesNY and moderated by Diane Ravitch, each vocal critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.
Seems these forums may be serving as a sort of ed reform litmus test.

The campaign video on Weiner's website says he went to public schools, and his mom was a public school teacher for 31 years.  But he also throws in a gratuitous "our schools aren't what they should be" line.

And so far the "Education Ideas" on his website are pretty thin, like a Kindle in every backpack and eliminating paid parent coordinators.

It's troublesome that Weiner has hired a reformy spokeswoman and was one of only two candidates to attend this charter advocate forum. Let's hope having a public school teacher for a mom is enough of a draw to keep him on the right side of the reformy fence.

Morgan looks on as Weiner talks to the press. The question is,
how much influence will she have on his education agenda?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Beware The Charter School Review Board; My Testimony Before The Assembly Education Committee

John Mooney pulled together a great piece about yesterday's Assembly Education Committee hearing, where Assembly Bill A-4177, Assemblyman Diegnan's rewrite of the Charter School Program Act of 1995, got it's debut. Overall, I think the bill is great.  It covers all of the issues that need to be addressed in our 18 year old charter law, most notably the need for local control, and it does it thoroughly and cleanly.

The one part that scares the pants off of me though is the charter school review board created in the bill.  As written, it's a great idea.  But as this bill gets modified along the way, I fear it will be manipulated to become like the State Charter School Commission in Illinois.  

Assemblyman Diegnan happened to mention at the meeting yesterday that the idea for the charter school review board came from Carlos Perez of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.  But apparently he doesn't like the way that Assemblyman Diegnan incorporated it into his bill.  

Perez told NJ Spotlight, "“Our intent is to have something that is its own independent authorizer, and as an entity they would be publicly accountable.”

Sounds to me like I was right.  Perez and company will try to turn this review board into the authorizer, and as you'll see below, that will function to undermine local control.  

Which is EXACTLY what he wants...

Read my testimony and decide for yourself if you think my fear is warranted.  

Darcie Cimarusti
Save Our Schools New Jersey
Assembly Education Committee Testimony
Assembly Bill A-4177
June 10, 2013

Good Afternoon Chairman Diegnan, Vice-Chairwoman Watson-Coleman, and members of the Committee; my name is Darcie Cimarusti, and I am here today to provide my perspective on Assembly Bill A-4177. 
First I wish to commend Assemblyman Diegnan for listening to the voices of the over 7,500 residents who signed a Save Our School NJ petition asking for local control over charter school approvals. 
For these 7,500 New Jersey residents, local control is non-negotiable. 
But I am quite certain that powerful forces will come before you and lobby HARD to have this provision removed, and I am also quite certain that those same forces will implore you to expand the role of the charter school review board established in this bill. 
Here’s why I think this will happen, and why I am here to warn you that doing so would be a REALLY bad idea. 
In an interview in my hometown paper, Carlos Perez, the CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said the current charter law that allows charters to be approved against local wishes provides freedom from, and I quote, “A TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY.” 
Just let those words sink in a moment. 
In Mr. Perez’s estimation, affording local taxpayers the opportunity to decide how best to allocate resources and educate students in their district is a tyranny of the majority. 
How did Mr. Perez develop such a skewed view of local control? 
It seems to come from his time in Illinois. 
Mr. Perez came to New Jersey via Chicago, where he was the Director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. He worked alongside now Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who ran Chicago Public Schools. With Secretary Duncan at the helm in Chicago, charters flourished, but Mr. Perez did not enjoy such success in the rest of the state. 
Why?  Because in Illinois local districts authorize charter schools, and outside of Chicago, districts simply didn’t want them. 
Mr. Perez referred to his time in Illinois as “five years of frustrating hard work” that didn’t produce “much momentum.” And much to Mr. Perez’s chagrin, the charter backlash followed him to New Jersey.  
We are not alone; across the nation districts don’t like having their autonomy usurped. 
Rest assured that the New Jersey Charter Schools Association won’t be the only group to suggest that local control measures needs to be removed from this bill. 
Watch for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, or NACSA, to come before you as well. NACSA’s CEO, Greg Richmond, worked for the Chicago Public Schools for over a decade and created the city’s Charter School Office. During his tenure, he played a large role in Chicago’s unchecked charter growth. 
More recently Mr. Richmond, with the help of the highly controversial Administrative Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, was instrumental in managing to undermine local control in Illinois. ALEC and NACSA lobbied for the passage of Illinois’ Charter School Quality Law, which in 2011 created a State Charter School Commission, much like the review board established in A-4177. Incredibly, Mr. Richmond was ultimately appointed to lead the Commission. 
Under the new law, charter applicants can appeal a local board’s denial to the Commission, and the board’s denial can be overturned. I fear the charter review panel proposed in this bill could be manipulated to function quite similarly, effectively undermining local control. 
The New Jersey Charter Schools Association, NACSA and other lobbying groups will testify that local control will kill charter growth. 
I submit to you that perhaps limited charter growth is warranted, especially when the growth under Secretary Duncan, Mr. Richmond and Mr. Perez seems to have led to recent events in Chicago. 
The nation just watched in disbelief as Mayor Rahm Emanuel shuttered an unprecedented and historic 50 public schools, predominantly in low-income urban neighborhoods of color, sparking citywide protests. Mayor Emanuel cited, among other reasons, a “serious underenrollment problem. 
Today Chicago has almost 120 charter schools, clearly a contributing factor to the “serious underenrollment” in the traditional public schools. 
Is this the future we want here in New Jersey? 
I urge you to continue to listen to your constituents, not state and national lobbyists, and defend and preserve the local control mechanism in A-4177.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Many Guises Of K12 Inc. In New Jersey

John Mooney over at NJ Spotlight wrote a great piece yesterday about Commissioner Cerf's stunning denial of K12 Inc.'s New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School (NJVACS). In the "Related Links" he included NJVACS Board President Michael Pallante's response letter, which was not only pretty spicy, it was pretty revealing, too.
However, despite making ourselves available to you and your staff at every turn, attending every training, providing testimony at Board and legislative hearings, conducting demonstrations and hosting open houses, working closely with the AG and your staff to defend against litigation brought by groups questioning your authority as Commissioner, and sending invitation after invitation to you and to your staff to discuss any concerns you might have so that we might have an opportunity to address them, we now find ourselves in the position of having to tell 850 children, their families, and the teachers your staff insisted we hire as part of the compliance process that, once again, the school will be denied the opportunity to open and prove ourselves. (emphasis mine)
Man, did you catch all that? There is A LOT in that paragraph, but for right now let's take a closer look at the fact that NJVACS claims they provided testimony at Board and legislative hearings and conducted demonstrations.

Will The Real Parent Advocates Please Stand Up

A recent demonstration was indeed organized by NJVACS in conjunction with the New Jersey affiliate of 

Several New Jersey policymakers got a taste of online learning Monday, thanks to a demonstration at the Capitol in Trenton.  A prospective NJVACS (New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School) student and his mother, along with a NJVACS prospective teacher, volunteered their time to show attendees how online learning works for the students it serves.
For all policymakers -  these virtual education demonstrations help legislators understand how a public virtual schools works - including the interactions between students and public school teachers, the state approved curriculum and how these schools operate just like any other public school. 
Here is a video montage of the demonstration, which shows the same parent and child that participated in the demonstration also testifying on behalf of NJVACS before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.
So what's
NJ is an alliance of parents that supports and defends parents' rights to access the best public school options for their children. The Coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs.
Sounds like a grassroots parent advocacy group, right?

Here's where it gets interesting. Check out the comment section of yesterday's Mooney article. There is a comment from someone named Norris Clark, claiming to be from 
Upon hearing the news of the denial, parent advocate Esthere Tolbert, who recently provided legislators with a demonstration of the virtual learning that benefited her son while in Washington State, said, "I read the denial letter from the Commissioner and I am really at a loss of words as to how I feel. I must say that our response was excellent. Please know that I am still in the running to try help move this forward. If we have to talk with the commissioner and/or the governor in person, Micah and I are there. Our participation includes testimonies to attorneys and all the way up the Supreme Court!”
Another mother writes, “I would just like to express my disappointment, with the decision to deny the application for the K12 Virtual Charter School in NJ. I have a special needs child that would have benefited greatly from the K12 Charter School. Signed, Very Disappointed!” 
Yet another mom of a boy diagnosed with ADHD states, “I really feel strongly that we are doing a disservice to children by not having alternatives to traditional classroom situations, and many of those children are very bright and will not reach their full potential.”   
This is written as if Clark is a parent himself, representing all the other supposedly bereft parents, left in a state of disbelief that the virtual education they so desperately wanted for their children will not materialize. Clark implores the Commissioner "to meet with the aggrieved families."

Norris Clark, Man of Mystery

So who is Norris Clark, and why is he speaking for these supposed parents and attempting to broker a meeting between them and the Commissioner?  Why aren't they speaking for themselves? Why isn't the comment section FILLED with comments from the "aggrieved families" Clark claims to represent? 

Because Clark isn't a parent looking to enroll his kids in NJVACS, he's the Executive Director of (Scroll to the bottom of the link.)

But that's not even the tip of the iceberg.  Clark also just happens to be the Managing Partner of Princeton Strategic Communications.

And Princeton Strategic Communications Group lists as one of it's clients. (Please note, the NJDOE is also listed as a client...) 

So let's try to get this straight. Norris Clark, as Managing Partner of Princeton Strategic Group, has himself, as the Executive Director of, as a client.

But if you think that's twisted, wait until you read this. Princeton Strategic Communications is part of a "Circle of Companies" that includes the "largest state lobbying firm in the country," Princeton Public Affairs Group.

And here's the big payoff.  Who's paying for the lobbying services of Princeton Public Affairs Group?

Why, that would be K12 Inc. 
The school noted that it had also hired experts to speak to the legality and effectiveness of the programs. K12 also signed on with the state’s top lobbying firm, Princeton Public Affairs Group. (emphasis mine)
So, the "parent advocacy" group that put together the testimony, demonstrations and open houses for NJVACS was hired by K12 Inc.

I'm sure K12 Inc. is distressed their scheme didn't work.  After all, Norris Clark should have been able to not only successfully manage "strategic communications" for them, both as the Managing Partner of Princeton Strategic Group and as the Executive Director of, but he REALLY should have been able to successfully manage the NJDOE.  

Ya know, because he used to work there...
Next week, an organization called Public School Options, headed by former state education department official Norris Clark, will follow up with a public presentation in the Statehouse. Families and educators will talk about virtual schooling and demonstrate how it works in real time. All 120 legislators have been invited to the session.
That's right, Norris was the former director of DOE’s Family and Community Relations Office.

Well, isn't that cozy.

So just to be clear, K12 Inc. hired Princeton Public Affairs Group, which is part of a "Circle of Companies" with Princeton Strategic Communications, whose managing partner also happens to be both an ex-NJDOE employee and the Executive Director of, a seemingly astroturf "parent advocacy" group that staged demonstrations and testified for legislators about K12 Inc.'s NJVACS to help secure approval from the state.

Maybe a visual will help.

Yeesh. You need a score card to keep up.

New Jersey Don't Play That

No wonder New Jersey legislators didn't buy the horse and pony show K12 Inc. put on for them. Even if they didn't KNOW that K12 Inc.'s lobbying efforts were taking on many guises, they must have FELT like they were being played. 

Perhaps even Commissioner Cerf felt like he was being played, and that's why he denied them a final charter. 

I hope this serves as a warning to other corporate ed reform snake oil salesmen sniffing around for a piece of the New Jersey public education pie.

TRUE public education advocates in this state are a formidable foe. 

Don't mess with Jersey.

Oh dear, even the K12 Inc. stock took a beating yesterday.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Charismatic Charter Charlatan Amir Khan: Mayor Of Camden?

This one comes straight out of the "I couldn't make this %#*@ up if I tried" file. Amir Khan is running for Mayor of Camden.  

Yes, THAT Amir Khan.

The Amir Khan who got a charter school approved despite his utter lack of qualifications and clear inability to provide a stable foundation upon which to build a school.

The Amir Khan Governor Christie denied knowing at a Town Hall as Khan and his wife sat directly behind him on the dais.

The Amir Khan who, in a church/state blurring video, lobbied his parishioners to vote AGAINST local control measures.

The Amir Khan who crashed and burned. HARD.

He got evicted from the property he intended to buy from the Catholic church and the state denied him his final charter, citing "misrepresentations and a lack of forthrightness."

So what's a charter charlatan to do?


Just last year Khan was living in Voorhees, trying to open a charter in Cherry Hill, but now he has moved to Camden and wants to be mayor. This is from an April, 2013 profile of Amir's son Micah in the Philadelphia Daily News:
Khan says he recently moved to the Fairview section of Camden with his father, Amir Khan, president of an outreach ministry called the Nehemiah Group, to be part of the community he's trying to help.
Sounds like the definition of a carpetbagger, no?
: outsiderespecially : a nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics
Especially when you consider that when he was trying to open the charter school in Cherry Hill, he was clear he DIDN'T want kids from Camden enrolling in his suburban charter. This was from Regis Academy board meeting minutes:
The addition of Camden students may deter enrollment. Camden has it's own charter schools.
Those two sentences should make ANYONE taking Khan seriously for public office in Camden wince.

With the state poised to take over the public schools in Camden, the mayor appointing board members, and the terms of the takeover still unclear, it is simply inconceivable that someone who failed to get a single school off the ground could be elected to play a huge role in running ALL of Camden's schools.

Especially when just last year he saw Camden students as a deterrent.

Amir Khan is a self-proclaimed salesman.
Charisma is his defining characteristic. Let’s just say he’s a man who gets a lot of windows opened. Or, in Khan’s words: “I could sell a bikini to an Eskimo.”
Charisma can get you pretty far as a politician.  And Khan is, quite literally, putting on a carnival show for the people of Camden.

But you can't see urban school children as a hindrance in 2012 and want to control their schools in 2013.  

You just can't.

The children of Camden deserve far better than Mayor Amir Khan.