UPDATE: Senate Judiciary Committee confirms Cerf Education Commissioner by unanimous vote after more than 4 hours of testimony, including questions about the ethics behind some of the decisions in Cerf’s professional past.- Rosi
I was tweeting on the hearing, and then Twitter died. How did I break it?
So here are my notes:
– 11:30 Lesniak makes point that you can’t have fair evaluation system when politics pervades schools. Cerf says alternative is no evaluation system at all. That’s so silly: you can have a good evaluation system if teachers are driving it like other professionals.
– 11:34 School funding formula – SFRA. Cerf believes funding in NJ is “seriously amiss.” Sarlo wonders why Christie Administration didn’t file an “adequacy report” and instead filed a different report that didn’t allow Legislature to act to revamp SFRA.
– 11:46 “Will Christie sign the tenure bill?” “The only person who knows that is the governor.” “Do you support the current bill?” “For tenure only, it’s a pretty good bill. But you need to address urgently needed amendments.” Obviously referring to seniority.
– 11:50 Cerf says too many regulations imposed on local districts. QSAC has become “unnecessary burden.” Focus on “failing” districts, give “succeeding” districts a break.
– 11:55 Pou, senator from Paterson, talking about returning local control of schools. Brings up Newark evaluation, which was worse under new superintendent Cami Anderson; that means state keeps control. Pou recounting how drastically scores dropped in less than one year: “How do you go to such extremes?” Cerf: “I stand by the second results, and probably the first ones.” Cerf: “We’re looking for stability, and districts do make wide swings.” Seriously? You think Anderson ruined Newark that quickly? Come on.
Cerf: “We do better focusing on bad schools than bad districts” But still makes case for state control: competition of the value of “local control with what’s best for kids.” As if the two aren’t the same! And as if Cerf can be trusted to have kids interests in mind but local board can’t be trusted to do the same.
Pou: How does Paterson ever get the chance to return to local control? Cerf: “Paterson board seems more likely to move in right direction than Newark.” That’s awfully provocative.
12:05: Pou cites NEPC study on cyber schools. She’s reading the right stuff and is now one of my favorite politicians! Cerf: “Distinction between fully virtual and blended schools” Just said he is not familiar with study – or the group! How is it possible he does not know what NEPC is?!
Cerf now talking about home schooled, elite athletes, kids with weak social skills using cyber-schools. Wants to move slowly and sensibly.
12:20 Doherty is up. Going on about income tax. A warrior in the suburban-urban tax battle in NJ. Probably gets all of his ideas from Paul Mulshine. I’m getting a sandwich during this…
OK, I’m back. Doherty seems to want Legislature to take over aid distribution. Yeah, let’s turn it into more pork – that’ll be great…
Now Doherty going on about Supreme Court and Abbott suits. Seems to think it’s important that the Legislature should be a defendant in suits. So silly.
12:30 Doherty asking about SFRA. Cerf implies his “predecessor” (Bret Schundler) wasn’t using formula correctly. Says he’s using SFRA formula now.
Now Doherty talking about equal protection and SFRA – as if giving more money to the hardest kids to educate is unconstitutional. Worrying about inaccuracy in Free Lunch counts. Doherty is obsessed with this. Cerf agrees they are inaccurate. Let’s be clear: this is all about finding a way to cut funding to poorer districts by raising the specter of fraud.
Now Doherty going on about tax abatements as an incentive for some districts to get more state aid. Saying Highlands Act is killing rural towns. (?) Says Jersey City should be collecting more property tax. Well, how about letting schools collect revenues from other sources than property taxes?
12:50 – Man, Doherty will not let this go. Money matters, Senator!
Other Senators telling Doherty to wrap it up, but now he insists on bringing up ADHD and diet modification. Sarlo (?): “Hey, Senator, he’s not a doctor!” Boilerplate answer to boilerplate question.
1:00 – Stack is up. Early childhood education: providers and wrap-around services.
1:05 – Senator Weinberg is up – finally! Transparency is the issue, and OPRA requests, which Weinberg have made. Cerf: “I believe in transparency” Says there have been 1021 OPRA requests for NJDOE, 63 from ELC. “Burden is high” to fulfill. Says he has a “strong track record” of transparency. A reminder: Cerf’s Problems #1: Ethics and Transparency.
Weinberg talking about Teaneck having to set aside $15 million for virtual charter, and how protests stopped it. Cerf: “Not our finest hour.”
Cerf: Not sure one-year virtual charter moratorium “is necessary.” Weinberg: before we go ahead, we need to study this. NJ one of few states to not require home school registration, so no idea how that would impact funding of virtual schools. “Bizarre” to give virtual charter same money as brick-and-mortar; Cerf agrees. Good.
Cerf: “I ignore letters, swirl of politics” around charter approvals. Does that include letters of parents and taxpayers?
Weinberg: Local schools need to set aside money for possible charters, don’t find out until July whether charter will actually open that September. Cerf agrees sequence is “highly imperfect.” To me, solution is obvious: local district approval of charters. Cerf says there is an “internal rule” made 2 weeks ago that limits use of planning years – “one, possibly two” – but several charters got planning years in last round.
Weinberg says she is charter supporter, voted for first authorizing law (1995, I think). They were supposed to be “laboratories.” But publics and charters don’t appear to share knowledge. I think there is actually very little charters can teach publics, but that’s just me.
Cerf says charters are “overly-politicized.” (Gosh, wonder why) Says should be closed when not working: we are normalizing school failure and closing.
Cerf: He is vocal supporter of charters, but only approves a few because he only wants schools that will succeed. Agrees with Christie that charters should be for “unmet needs” – do not define that need as boutique desires. But “there are many districts that are not as good as they think they are.” Does that include Cherry Hill and Millburn?
Weinberg: “Is this a change in philosophy?” Cerf: “I think that’s fair.”
Weinberg asks about for-profit schools. Cerf: “Parents/kids don’t care what school is. We should support what works.” Public ed $650 billion “sector.” “I am a little bit suspicious of purely for-profit entities.” Like Edison?
Cerf: “We are presiding over a national catastrophe.” Edison was “interesting idea.” “I think we did very good work.” Oy, vey!
1:30 Now geting to Global Education Advisors, Cerf’s other company. Some background. Says he went to Booker with idea for a “diagnostic.” Says GEA was a “dinky little entity,” his involvement “very brief.” Hasn’t explained why he changed story to Star-Ledger.
1:40 Cerf: Number one priority is to address “achievement gap.” That focus itself is a dodge. Weinberg: This can be addressed without privatizing.
Weinberg compliments Cerf on his responsiveness; I may be a critic, but I am actually very glad to hear that.
Weinberg: “I think you have one thing to be careful of: sometimes something seems OK because the goal is OK.” On ethics: “I would urge you to sharpen up your antennae.” Weinberg brings up Cerf’s ethical problem in NYC. He says no action as taken. A reminder.
Now time for testimony:
Deb Cornavaca from SOSNJ up first. Several concerns: lack of accountability and transparency. Bypasses legislative process. Bringing up RACs. Virtual charters are problem when charters can take students from non-contiguous districts. Problem is that citizens are not being included in process.
Darcie Cimarusti now up. Parents are not being heard at NJDOE: “We were ignored.” “Cerf must be accountable to ALL stakeholders.” “Charters are NOT replicable, will defund traditional schools.”
Man from Camden, didn’t get name: Against Cerf’s nomination. Lists lots of problems in urban schools. The state monitor is not doing job; no parental involvement; micromanagement from the state.
Mr. Frazer: Opposed to nominee. From Camden. Cerf failed at Edison, pushes charters, “How can Camden’s schools survive?” Brings up Lanning Square controversy.
Mr. Delgato: Opposed to nominee. From Camden. “Our mayor has failed us. Our BOE has failed our kids.”
Chairman Sarlo: “I think you have the skills to lead us.” “Don’t let the politics get in the way of making sound decisions.”
Senator Pou: “Better communication appears to be necessary.” “You deserve opportunity to be in position.”
Senator Scutari: “I found myself struggling to say ‘yes’ to you.” You “snow jobbed me” on your moving from Montclair to Montgomery; committee should be “insulted” by your answer. You must “earn respect” of critics. Votes “yes.”
ACTING NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf confirmed unanimously.