Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The NJ CREDO Study; And The Band Played On

My blog post refuting Commissioner Cerf's claim that CREDO was "not a part of the bandwagon", was picked up by both Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss.  I have done a bit more digging, and have come up with what I feel is irrefutable evidence that not only is CREDO part of the bandwagon, their Director Macke Raymond, may in fact be one of the band leaders.

The additional research started with this email, which was released to the Education Law Center under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
Macke:Smarick re- Robertson.pdf

This email is LOADED.  It's going to take a bit of work to break it all down.

New Jersey Implications

The first, and most obvious thing is that Raymond states, in no uncertain terms, that she has used a yet to be signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between CREDO and the NJDOE to leverage a grant from the reformy, billionaire-hedge fund-backed Robertson Foundation.  

But also note, that there is reference to the fact that Robertson is "keen" to fund their work because they already fund the Newark Charter School Fund (along with Gates and Walton).

This certainly gives the impression that the Robertson Foundation is looking to use CREDO's NJ study to fortify their sizable ($4M) investment in Newark.  

And surprise, surprise! Newark charters were the star of the report!!  In fact, the report attempted to sell the gains in Newark, which Bruce Baker has shown again and again are most likely to be a result of segregation, to spread charters across the rest of the state.  

But not so fast!  A report released last week highlighted the segregation in Newark schools, which was glossed over almost entirely in CREDO's rosy depiction of "gains" in Newark charters.

The report, commissioned by the district and prepared by the Boston-based consulting company Parthenon, analyzed student proficiency in math and reading, college readiness and test score growth in 85 charter and district schools across the state’s largest city.
It classified about 14,000 K-8 students as being "highest need," based on factors such as backgrounds, home lives, English language proficiency and special education classification.
The Parthenon report found that among the 43 percent of Newark students classified as "highest need," charter schools enroll 3 percent and district schools enroll 40 percent. 

Yeah, there's a big surprise.  

And I can hear CREDO supporters now complaining that the CREDO study found "virtual twins" for district students in charter schools, and those charter school students, at least in Newark, performed better.  But Bruce Baker and Julia Sass Rubin have both pointed out that by not differentiating between levels of poverty, CREDO's results are tragically flawed.  

So what's NSVF?

In the email Raymond says, "Sorry to miss the chance to update you this week at NSVF..."

So of course I was curious to find out what NSVF was and what happened that week.  

NSVF is the NewSchools Venture Fund, and that week was their annual Summit.
The NewSchools Summit, held in partnership with the Aspen Institute, is an annual invitation-only gathering of entrepreneurs, educators, and policymakers who are passionate about the power of entrepreneurs to transform public education for underserved children.
So I looked back at some of their previous summits, and seems Raymond has taken part in some pretty telling panels.  Like this one from 2005, titled "How Good Is Good Enough? Reframing the Debate on Charter School Quality."  
Emerging availability of data on charter school performance and the evolution of how charter schools are authorized and evaluated have spurred conversations about charter school quality and fueled recent debates in the press. This session will examine how key stakeholders in the charter school movement should proactively frame the debate about charter school quality. (emphasis mine) 

Well, it certainly felt like the CREDO study's conclusions were meant more to "proactively frame the debate" than provide any kind of objective analysis of the findings.  And BTW, Greg Richmond, who we have already established is Commissioner Cerf's new BFF, was also on the same panel.

Raymond's participation in this clearly pro-charter, invitation only summit, alongside Cerf's latest partner in crime, made me wonder if she regularly takes part in other summits, but man, I wasn't prepared to find this next one.

2005 Chartering 2.0 Leadership Summit

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website still has a report posted about the event.
Last summer, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools gathered some of the nation’s leading charter school advocates and other education experts to plan for the next generation of charter schooling.
The event, “CHARTERING 2.0,” was inspiring and thought-provoking and provided valuable guidance on how to improve charter quality as the movement grows to scale(emphasis mine) 

Raymond was on a panel called "School Districts Will Change in Response to Charters" with, among others, Deborah McGriff who was at Edison Learning with Cerf, and now is a partner at NSVF (see how everything seems to come right back to Cerf and the same handful of reformy organizations?)

What Raymond said on this panel is shocking.  Here are her comments in their entirety.

I have three points.  First, change is the last thing districts will do.  Second, there are predictable indicators of where districts are on the change curve.
Third, the charter movement isn’t yet making a strong case for competitive response from districts. 
I study the emergence of markets in industries dominated by monopolies. Certain lessons can be learned from these instances that can be applied to the charter world.  Monopolies have enormous power and do not change happily or easily; they can expend resources to avoid change.  When threatened, they launch a series of wars.  First is the war of entry: prohibiting new entrants into the market.  They try to set high barriers through law and regulation.  In general, the monopolist is dismissive of potential entrants. 
The second war is of survival—they launch games of irritation.  These include delaying tactics, non-responsiveness, and nonpayment.  They try to limit the discretion of the new entrants.  The public relations strategy is to smear the new opponents, often personally. 
Third is the war of containment.  They will heap on as many costs as possible to wear you down, such as more reporting requirements and cost studies. The public relations battle becomes more aggressive and organized. 
Fourth is the war of elimination; the biggest indicator is the legal challenge. The opposition forms into coalitions designed to destroy the new entrants. 
After all of these wars, you will see change.  But you have to survive first. 
A final point: if chartering is to win the political and policy battle, it must demonstrate that it can either produce much better results or much greater efficiency (same results with lower costs).  Charter schools haven’t done either yet.
So in 2005 Raymond studied the "emergence of markets in industries dominated by monopolies" and now she studies "the effectiveness of public charter schools.

To me, the question then becomes, is her current research really about "effectiveness" or is it a way to ensure that the charter market continues to "emerge."  This is certainly the goal of her funders. 

There is no way to read Raymond's speech at the Chartering 2.0 Leadership Summit and not question wether the dubious conclusions drawn from her research are nothing more than a weapon in the arsenal of charter advocates to win the "war" she describes.

In 2005 Raymond stated that to win, charter advocates must demonstrate that charters "produce much better results."  And now, lo and behold, 7 years and a couple million reform-bucks later, she's producing the research findings to "prove" just that.  

No doubt about it, Cerf Lied

One thing is certainly clear.  Raymond is indeed a "key stakeholder" among the "nation's leading charter school advocates."  AKA, the bandwagon.

Yet Cerf sat before the New Jersey State Board of Education and testified that the CREDO researchers were NOT a part of the bandwagon.  

There is no doubt.  He lied.  

Shouldn't there be some consequence when the Commissioner of Education testifies before his state board and lies through his teeth?


  1. I for one would like to go back to Senator Weinberg's questioning of Cerf at his nomination hearing where she questions his radar of ethics. He was deeply offended, or perhaps defensive.

    Yes, when the Commissioner of Education sits before the NJ State BOE or any board or any group of people and lies, he ought to face consequences. I suggest that the brilliant blogger raise this very issue before the NJ State BOE on January 16th at open testimony. The first consequence of his lies would to be called on it in front of the Board that was lied to, and to go on permanent public record.....

    Just a thought Crusader. Either way, keep it coming!

  2. I suggest we demand that Steve Sweeney ask George Norcross for permission to hold Cerf accountable for ANOTHER lie.

  3. Darcie,
    Thank you for this article. I must note that 8/2012 Smarick left the NJ DOE to work with Bellwether. Bellwether being closely connected to NSVF. NSVF is mostly comprised of TFA grads with excellent education in public policy and little to no educational experience. Another "experience" that appeared on their resumes frequently was "Bain".

    I found it interesting that if you read any of their blogs (such as Smarick's flypaper do not discuss the attributes of "deformed" education but how to win the "war"! To me, they are like little lieutenants sent out to battle for reform. All in the non-profit "army" with the purpose of win at all costs (and to keep themselves employed)without regard to what they are fighting for! As you have seen, they regard Education simply as a multibillion dollar monopoly and they want a piece, if not all, of that money (for themselves and their billionaire backers) at any costs!