Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cerf Invites Edison Learning Crony To Open "Cluster" Of Charters In Paterson With No Public Input

The Paterson public school district has been under state control for 21 years, and elected officials are saying enough is enough.  But state control suits NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf just fine.

After all, if he isn't in complete control of the district, how can he hand out charter schools to his buddies?

I have been following and writing about the Paterson Collegiate Academy Charter School Application for some time now, because as soon as I saw Steven Wilson I knew he was the kind of charter operator that would make Cerf go weak at the knees. Wilson came out of Edison Learning, just like Christie, Cerf and Evo Popoff (Cerf's new Chief Innovation Officer overseeing the Office of Charter Schools) but all I could do was speculate that these guys knew each other.

If you follow this blog at all, you know I am a big fan of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and regularly submit OPRA requests which reveal all kinds of interesting information. So the thought occurred to me to OPRA emails between Wilson and Cerf or any other employee of the NJDOE.  

Turns out not only was I right, but Wilson and Cerf are chummy enough that Wilson emailed Cerf back in July 2012, three months before he submitted his application to the state, and the email went to Cerf's personal email address, not his public DOE address.  Clearly they know each other pretty darn well.

But what even I couldn't have imagined was that Cerf actually told Wilson he would "love" it if he would open schools in NJ.


After Wilson met with Cerf, but still before the October 15th application deadline, Popoff dropped Wilson an email to set up a phone call.  Clearly these guys knew each other, too.  And clearly Wilson was being pursued.  He was the belle of the ball.

You have to wonder, why bother with the artifice of having unconnected founders submit applications? Seems that if you know the Commissioner and his Chief Innovation Officer you not only get wooed to open a charter school, you get cash money to boot!  Wilson was the only applicant to receive a $150,000 planning year grant.

I checked with the OPRA custodian to see if this grant award had been "determined" yet, and sure enough, Wilson was the only one awarded the funds.

Notice in Wilson's original email to Cerf he says he's "working on more schools, building capacity, thinking about raising money (I think we're well positioned)..."  Wilson is crystal clear with Cerf that he is already "well positioned" to raise money on his own, yet the NJDOE feels the need to throw cash at him anyway.

What's most frightening to me is that Wilson says his plan is to open a "cluster" of charters in Paterson. Paterson is home to 33 elementary schools, and four elementary academies.  Lots of room for Wilson to grab some market share, especially with Cerf and Popoff in his back pocket.

And let's not forget.  The people of Paterson knew NOTHING about this application until after it had been approved. This is being done TO the people of Paterson, not WITH them. And not for nothing, Wilson isn't allowed to operate like this in NYC. There he HAS to notify the public. Wilson is currently applying to open new charters in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Flatbush.  
“We actively invite parents and community leaders to submit comments regarding our intent to establish new schools in Flatbush and Sunset Park,” said Steven F. Wilson, president of Ascend Learning. To submit comments about Flatbush Ascend Charter School, interested parties should email Comments about Sunset Park Ascend Charter School should be emailed
Why is this not a part of the process in NJ? How does Cerf get away with approving charters without community input time and time again?

Here's what needs to happen. 

The NJDOE needs to release every single document related to how Wilson's charter and grant applications were reviewed, as well as every other application in those application rounds. This is the only way the NJDOE can demonstrate that Wilson was not given a charter school and a $150,000 grant just because he knows Cerf and Popoff. We also need to know who reviewed those applications, how the reviewers were selected, and how the ratings impacted Cerf's final decisions.  

Cerf must not be allowed to award a "cluster" of charters in Paterson to his Edison Learning buddy, just as the good people of Paterson and their elected officials struggle to get out from under 21 years of unsuccessful state control. Why should they be subjected to more failed state policies, and why should they have no say in the future of their district? If Wilson gets a foothold in Paterson now, much needed funds will be drained from the Paterson budget just as the district is trying to reestablish local control.

Cerf's learned he can't get away with these shenanigans in suburban districts, and he and Christie have completely backed away from approving charter schools in "high performing" districts.  Help me send this administration a message that they can't get away with it in Paterson either.

This administration refuses to give urban school districts a seat at the table when charter decisions are made. Paterson may just be poised to change that. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

NJ's Charter Closures; Ideology Trumps Kids

In a post today Jersey Jazzman searches for the logic behind the charter closures announced last week. In a follow up post he unveiled the common denominator between the shuttered schools.  They have the highest percentages of special ed kids.  

This should come as no surprise. 

More special needs kids = lower test scores, and nowadays lower test scores = closure.  

Pretty simple. Gross, but simple.

This is what happens when you allow ideology to guide your actions.  The NJDOE and their cronies have set off on a course, and they're not about to let a bunch of special needs kids get in their way.

Chris Cerf's blind allegiance to the Broad Foundation, National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) is what's behind the closure craze.

Allow me to illustrate.  

The outstanding experts at the Broad Foundation, which transforms urban schools by closing them, have helpfully assembled an 83 page guide to shutting ‘er down. The guide is packed with easy-to-follow tips to guide you from start of your predetermined course (choosing which schools to close) to the not-at-all-surprising finish (leasing, selling or donating your old, closed schools to fresh, new academies of excellence and innovation). Well, what are you waiting for? Our schools aren’t just going to close themselves… (emphasis mine)
2.  I posted a tweet yesterday from NACSA CEO and president Greg Richmond:
3.  And don't miss this gem from a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the closure of the Institute for Excellence Charter School:
Starting a school is difficult, agreed Carlos Perez, the president and CEO of the nonprofit New Jersey Charter School Association, but the early years are critical to the school's long-term success.
"The first few years at the school, there's often a lot of turmoil, a lot of change," he said. "What we're seeing, though, is after a while, certain indicators start to emerge."
Charter schools have a 90 percent likelihood of remaining where they are after the first five years, he said, citing a Stanford University study. (emphasis mine)
There you have it, the trifecta of reformy closure ideology. The venture philanthropist, the industry kingpin and the research maven all concur - if a school isn't performing- shut it down.  

Just trust them, it's for the (special ed) kids.

Closures may be devastating for parents and students, but just look how proud they make exNJDOE Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick!

Essential part of @tussotf?  Huh?

Smarick is referring to his new book, The Urban School System of the Future. In Smarick's view, charters are the best hope for urban school systems.
Smarick argues that the answer lies in charter schooling, the topic of his second section. Charter agreements have four “systematic advantages” over the current arrangement of schools: the ability to start new, diversity of options, the opportunity for replication and expansion, and the possibility of closure.
Interestingly, Smarick doesn't seem to want to interact with anyone that may disagree with him. I tried to follow him on Twitter and here's what happened:

Andy Smarick blocked me on Twitter!  It's one of my proudest moments!

Do not question the great and powerful reformers!  DO NOT look behind the curtain and question closures! 

But even one of their own seems to at least have a basic understanding that closing a school is not a picnic for the kids (while simultaneously implying that those doing the closing are pretty darn pleased with themselves...). Meet NACSA Board Vice Chair Lisa Keegan.

At 4:45 Kegan says:
Don't just satisfy yourself that you've got the courage to shut down a school. OK, but that's not bingo for the kids. That just makes you feel better.
She concludes:
You can't let failure continue but you can't pretend like you just did something great when you shoved a bunch of kids out of a bad school and the only opportunity they have is another bad school. That's not success.
It's not just me right?  Her attitude is really strange. Do reformers really "feel better" when they shut down a school? How is it courageous? Wouldn't it be more courageous to do what it takes to FIX IT?

None of the press coverage has detailed plans for the kids and parents effected by these closures. The letter to Liberty Academy Charter School only says the expectation is for students to transition "smoothly" into "new schools" next year. 

Chris Cerf's message is crystal clear. Raise those scores, even if it's on the back of special needs kids, or your school is history.

Friday, March 1, 2013

NJ's Latest Accomplishment; We Really Know How To Close Charter Schools!

New Jersey's education system has a lot to brag about.  Please check out the link to a New Jersey School Board Association overview of the many reasons we should be proud of our schools and our students.  Here are some highlights:
  • Among the nation's best reading scores: New Jersey ranks among the best in the nation—tied for second—in the fourth-grade reading scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the "Nation's report card." In eighth-grade reading, New Jersey tied for fourth best in the nation. (Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress) 
  • Leading the nation in graduation rates: A national report from Education Week magazine, Diplomas Count 2011, found New Jersey’s graduation rate of nearly 87% led the nation, and exceeded the national graduation rate of 71.7%. (Source: Education Week). 
  • Among the nation's best math scores: The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which compares test results among states, ranked New Jersey among the top five states in both fourth-grade and eighth-grade math scores. (Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress)
  • Highest rated: An annual publication ranks New Jersey schools first in the nation on 19 factors that measure quality of public education (Source: "Education State Rankings 2010-2011," CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly) 
  • Quality Education: Nearly nine out of 10 parents say they are satisfied with their local public schools and more than half said they were "very satisfied," according to a Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll, "Public Education in New Jersey: Good and Getting Better." (Source: Eagleton Institute of Politics)
But what does Greg Richmond, president and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and Commissioner Cerf's new BFF want people to see when they look to New Jersey?

What a great job we do closing charter schools.

What do you think NJ?  Do you want our state's bragging rights to be we REALLY know how to shut a kid's school down and shut it down good?  I felt like I had been punched in the gut when I read this reprehensible tweet. The news that these charters will close must have been devastating for the parents and students that attend them. But suck it up kids, because Greg Richmond and Chris Cerf know what's best for you!!

Did you notice the #1millionlives hashtag on Richmond's tweet?  I first wrote about this diabolical campaign back in December when it was unveiled with great fanfare. Greg Richmond and Chris Cerf are leading the charge to shut down failing charters, and replace them with shiny new ones, with the end goal the creation of one million new charter seats nationwide.

Then Macke Raymond tied their campaign up with a nice little bow with a CREDO report that said, no need to wait, if a charter starts off bad, it's gonna stay bad, so you might as well shut 'er down NOW!

These people have colluded to manipulate the national dialogue to the point where closing a kid's school is a GOOD thing that we, as a state, should be proud of.  How twisted is that?

I feel I would be remiss to not point out that they don't seem to hold themselves to the same standard.  By all measures the NJDOE has been a horrible authorizer.  In May of 2012 the Office of Legislative Services skewered the Office of Charter schools.
We also determined that the process utilized by the department to review and approve initial applications and grant charter renewals was inadequate. In addition, we found that mandated monitoring procedures, which include annual assessments of charter school performance and enrollments, are not being completed.  
And one of the NJDOE's "important partners," the Center for Education Reform, was not much kinder when they reviewed the Office of Charter Schools in December of 2011. 
CER acquired and analyzed hundreds of pages of rejected applications, the corresponding denial letters and reviewer comments. The report details the lack of transparency in the application review process while uncovering severe bias and subjectivity applied by external reviewers and the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Charter Schools.
The latest NJDOE press release about the approval of two charters in Paterson would have us believe that the department has cleaned up it's act.  Of course the only evidence of their supposed turnaround is that they are now following NACSA's "best practices."  

I can't help but wonder...  why is a "failing" charter school authorizer salvageable but a "failing" charter school isn't? After all, isn't the reform movement supposedly about being accountable to students, not adults? 

Just another one of their One Million Lies...
Putting the interests of money above children...