Who is Chris Cerf? An investigation

Thanks for this info, ellington – promoted by Rosi

This month, the NJ Legislature will hold confirmation hearings on what is arguably Chris Christie’s most important appointment to date: Commissioner of Education. Given the embarrassment of the disgRace To the Top application and his public feuding with the previous commissioner, Bret Schundler, Christie has a lot riding on his choice: Chris Cerf.

So far, the NJ press has shown cautious optimism about Cerf’s nomination. Noting his work in the private sector as an education services provider, and his time spent working under Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Schools, editorial boards and columnists are inclined to hope that Cerf will help to repair the massive damage Christie has done to relations with both the NJEA and teachers themselves.

What the press hasn’t done, however, is take a long, hard look at Cerf’s career. If they did, they would find little cause for hope: Cerf, like Christie, is a political creature who has consistently let corporate and elite interests dictate educational policies. He has pushed ethical boundaries to the limit, enriching himself and others with actions that are not in the public’s best interest.

If anything, his career suggests that his appointment by Christie is not a harbinger of change; instead, it foretells of more of the same.

I have published a series of posts at my blog, Jersey Jazzman, that look deeply into the career of Chris Cerf. I offer these posts to both the staffs of the Senators who will question Cerf at his confirmation hearings, and to the NJ press as an aid for their vetting of Cerf:

The Chris Cerf Story – Part I

The Chris Cerf Story – Part II

The Chris Cerf Story – Part III

The Chris Cerf Story – Summary

Some highlights:

• Cerf ran Edison Education, a schools management firm started by Chris Whittle, at a time when school privatization was considered a serious option for urban school districts. Edison’s results, however, were less than stellar; still, that didn’t prevent Whittle or Cerf from claiming successes where none existed.

• Cerf was president of Edison when the company’s stock tanked and Edison was on the verge of collapse. He and Whittle found a white knight, however, that used money from one source to buy out the firm: the Florida teachers pension. There is ample evidence that the deal was structured solely to placate then-Governor Jeb Bush, a staunch “school choice” proponent.

• Cerf reportedly received stock worth several millions of dollars in the deal; however, he has never, to my knowledge, given a complete accounting of his personal gains.

• Cerf held on to his investment in Edison while serving as a Deputy Commissioner in the New York City schools – even as Edison was a contractor with the district. He gave up his interest only when he was about to be publicly embarrassed about it by a group of NYC parents.

• Cerf was later investigated for seeking a donation for a favored cause from the investment firm that had put together the Edison buyout. While the investigators found he had acted improperly, no action against him was taken; when the report was released later, it was heavily redacted – by Cerf’s own department.

• Cerf implemented a teacher evaluation program based on what later were revealed to be unreliable test scores. Many of the teachers in the program were never told they were being evaluated.

• Cerf put together a group of NYC-DOE staffers to monitor critics of Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, going so far as to videotape speeches by critics. The “files” kept on critics like Diane Ravitch were fed to outside groups to be used in rebuttals.

• Cerf worked in the most recent Bloomberg reelection campaign, spinning responses to accusations of testing fraud and poor results.

You can find links to all of my sources in the posts at Jersey Jazzman.

As I say in my summary:

Chris Cerf has been steeped in the confluence of politics, business, and schools; he has become quite adept a navigating these currents. The question, however, is whether the skills he has developed are going to help New Jersey’s children, or the special interests that the Christie Administration serves.

Comments (15)

  1. deciminyan

    Thank you, Jazzman, for doing a great service and providing the details of this nominee.  Hopefully the Senate hearings will address many of the questions you brought up and will not just be a rubber stamp approval of the Christie nominee.

    Reply
  2. William Weber (WjcW)

    what was your opinion of Joel Klein? Was he good for NYC schools?

    Reply
  3. firstamend07

    From the New York Times 2/9/07:

    Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is a former president of Edison Schools Inc., the commercial public school operator, said yesterday that he held an equity stake in the company until Wednesday, the day before a citywide parents’ group planned to question him about his ties to Edison.

    Mr. Cerf, who was named a deputy chancellor in December after working as a consultant to the city’s Education Department for about a year, had owned Edison shares that could have been worth as much as $6.7 million by 2008, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Cerf described that figure yesterday in an interview as “1,000 percent speculative.”

    Edison is the premier promoter of for profit public education.

    Reply
  4. firstamend07

    Here are the members of the committee:

    Scutari, Nicholas P. – Chair    

    Girgenti, John A. – Vice-Chair    

    Bateman, Christopher    

    Beck, Jennifer    

    Cardinale, Gerald    

    Gill, Nia H.    

    Kyrillos, Joseph M.    

    Lesniak, Raymond J.    

    O’Toole, Kevin J.    

    Sarlo, Paul A.    

    Smith, Bob    

    Stack, Brian P.    

    Weinberg, Loretta    

    Reply
  5. Dvd Avins

    It’s not a common name. Bennett Cerf was a member of the New York hoi paloi as a publisher, humorist, and author of a book in the Cat in the Hat Library. Vint Cerf (one of the makers of the Internet) is not Bennett’s son, but does have a son named Bennett, so they may be from the same extended family.

    Reply

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