He is on the Springfield Township Board of Education in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. As you can see, his short bio on the district website lists his most impressive qualifications:
- TFA Alum
- Broad Superintendents Academy Graduate (2002)
- Board Member of the Broad Residency and The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
Having connections to Broad will certainly get you places in New Jersey!
But it also says he's CEO of Touchstone Education. What's that?
Touchstone Education operates high-performing secondary schools that are changing the landscape of education across America. By integrating modern technology and best in class education strategies, we provide every student with a personalized education that ensures that all of our students are accepted to college and are prepared for the worlds of work and life.So how many schools is Touchstone Education currently operating to back up this claim that they "are changing the landscape of education across America."
Touchstone is a start-up charter management organization (CMO), and Merit Prep Newark will be the first school it operates.
But, they must be great, because they have some big plans and big money. After all, the Charter School Growth Fund has given Touchstone $3.6M.
Rayer, founder of Touchstone Education, a charter management organization (CMO), does not hide that he hopes to take his model national. He has already drawn impressive sums from some big names in education reform.
One is the Charter School Growth Fund in Colorado, which is putting up more than $3.6 million for Rayer’s CMO. The fund is headed by Kevin Hall, the former president of the Broad Foundation, a big force in education reform circles.
Ah, one Broadie scratching the back of another Broadie. And really Mr. Mooney? A "big force?" That may be the understatement of the century...
The Charter School Growth Fund website states:
New Jersey is just the "first phase" before he takes Touchstone national. And man, does he have some big plans for New Jersey or what?
Portfolio Member Profile:Touchstone Education is a new school management organization that will operate secondary (grades 6-12) blended learning schools across the United States. Touchstone will open its inital charter schools in Newark and Trenton, New Jersey in August 2012. Touchstone was created to reimagine secondary school by combining effective instructional practices and new technology to deliver personalized learning programs so that students are prepared to succeed in college and in life.
Planned Impact:During the first phase of Touchstone's growth, it plans to launch six schools in New Jersey that will ultimately create over 3,600 new seats of student capacity in blended learning secondary schools.
Why did he pick New Jersey as a stepping stone instead of his home state of Pennsylvania? Let's take a look at when his charters were approved and see if we get any answers there, beyond the obvious Broad connections which seem to have served him pretty well thus far in our story.
|Benjamin W. Rayer||Chief, Charter, Partnership & New Schools Officer|
|Carly Bolger||Coordinator, Charter Schools|
|Dee Gardner||Confidential Secretary|
|Stacy Goodman||Coordinator, Charter Schools|
|Adrienne F. Hawkins||Coordinator, Teacher Advancement Program|
|Susan Ostrich||TAP Director-Philly TAP|
|Darcy Russotto, Ph.D||TAP Specialist|
|Margaret Sears, Ed.D||TAP Specialist|
|Yvonne L. Soto||Coordinator, Innovation and Partnership Programs|
Without the big money from the Charter School Growth Fund, despite his pedigree, Vander Ark just couldn't get his charters off the ground. Now Newark Prep and Spirit Prep are in the hands of K12 Inc., but that's a story for another day... For the purposes of our story, it looks like Rayer's Broad connections at the Charter School Growth Fund may have been the difference between success and failure.Mr. Vander Ark had been unable to get any money from the Charter School Growth Fund or other similar national organizations. He had basically abandoned the idea of beginning a charter management organization and left the three schools-in-progress to find outside help on their own.Mr. Tillotson, the consultant, said: “It signals what’s wrong with the so-called charter school community. Somebody who doesn’t deserve a charter gets a charter. Somebody who doesn’t deserve a building gets a building. And then somebody who doesn’t care about the communities can turn their head and walk away.”
There is just one last chapter left to tell in the story of Benjamin's ascention. In case you haven't put it together yet, Benjamin is both the lead founder of the charters AND the CEO of the CMO. This was made abundantly clear in the application for the charter. (See pages 57-58). Touchstone was originally called Platform Academies, and remember Merit Prep Newark was approved as Newark Preparatory Charter School (I know, it is hard to keep track with all of this name-changing!)
After the charter is granted and pending Board approval, Newark Preparatory Charter School will enter into a management contract with a high-performing non-profit charter management organization (CMO).
If approved, the CMO will provide management, operations and instructional program consulting services to Newark Preparatory Charter School. The CMO will be responsible for providing the overall academic program and tools to execute and apply at Newark Preparatory Charter School. The CMO will also manage all business operations of the school including financial management, facilities and human resources. Newark Preparatory Charter School will negotiate with the selected CMO to determine a fee that will be in the range of 12% of the school’s local and state share of equalization aid. The term of the contract is expected to be one-year and can be renewed annually. The contract can be terminated with cause. The contract may also be terminated upon written agreement of both parties.
Newark Preparatory Charter School will consider a contract with Platform Academies, a non-profit school management organization which is launching schools in NJ for the first time in the fall of 2012, with strategic guidance and financial support from the Charter School Growth Fund of CO. For Year 1, Platform Academies has agreed to waive, if necessary, the CMO fee in the event that it would cause a budget deficit. Therefore, the fee is not included in the planning budget at this time. Newark Preparatory Charter School will also follow all applicable NJ vendor bidding regulations by seeking bids from at least 2 other high-performing CMO’s. However, given that the Lead Founder of Newark Preparatory Charter School, Ben Rayer, is also the Founder and CEO of Platform Academies Incorporated, we have included information about Platform Academies’ business plan here. (emphasis mine)The Office of Charter Schools actually questioned Rayer on this very point in a Request for Addenda to the application, and wanted assurances that all transactions would be at "arm's length." (See pages 4-5). The only concrete assurance given was that if Rayer's CMO won the bid (*cough*) to run the charter, Rayer would not be on the Board of Trustees.
I don't know about you, but that doesn't reassure me too much.
I would like to see the RFP's that went out looking for two other "high-performing CMO's" that may have been able to provide these services to the taxpayers of New Jersey for less than "the range of 12%." Amazing how Rayer's CMO, which remember, is a start-up, managed to come out on top and get the contract for a high-performing CMO!
I'd also like to know who is on the Board of Trustees. Then maybe we would could find out how this decision was made. Just knowing that supposedly Rayer isn't on the board doesn't really impress me.
I have scoured the Merit Prep website, and all I can come up with as a contact is Erika Ellison, Director of Operations for Touchstone Education. Anyone else think it's peculiar that the only contact for the charter works for the CMO? No principal or lead person contact information, just someone from corporate who seems to have no background in education, other than working for Mastery Charter Schools, where coincidentally Rayer was the Chief Operating Officer before he worked for, and mysteriously resigned from, the School District of Philadelphia.
There is no list of Board Members either. No list of meeting dates, or minutes of previous meetings, which you will find on just about any district website.
And look at this statement about the influence Vander Ark had on the charters he was planning to manage:
The newspaper first reported in early July the news about the diminished role of Vander Ark, who had provided essential services such as professional writing for the charter application, forming the charter school boards, footing lawyer fees, and initial interviews for staff. (emphasis mine)So forgive me if I don't buy that Rayer has had no influence on the appointment of the Board of Trustees, especially since we have no idea who they are and how they decided to select his CMO to run the schools for which he also served as Lead Founder.
So, that's how you do it friends. That's how you get yourself poised to open a whole slew of charters in New Jersey, and if you're successful there, maybe the nation. You just need the right connections to get a couple approvals and a lot of money.
Then make sure there is no public trail of the bid for your CMO to run the chain of charters you got approved and voilà, you're the self appointed King of Cybercharters in New Jersey!