Monday, February 17, 2014

The Tide's Coming In But the Cerf's Out

Anyone who's been paying attention to New Jersey politics and education should have seen this one coming from a mile away: the resignation of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. What makes it even more predictable is that he's taking a job with his good buddy, and former Education Chancellor of New York City, Joel Klein. Those two might be the only people currently working in education today who are making big time money. There's a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with improving schools.

Governor Christie is talking a good game about extending the school day and year and is making noise about having public workers contribute more to their pensions and benefits than they are now, but those proposals won't become law as long as the focus is on Sandy funds and the George Washington Bridge. The same is true of a new Charter Schools bill, vouchers and weakening employee sick day policies. Done. Over. Not going to happen. The new teacher evaluation system is up and running and is working just as poorly as those who know about the teaching profession said it was going to work, so there's not much more a Commissioner can do. Cerf is smart enough to see this, so it's goodbye for him. And I can't really blame him.

My interaction with Commissioner Cerf came last January, and I wrote about it at length here and here. In short, I was not impressed with either his answers to my questions or his attitude towards education. His main point throughout our discussion was that the state Board of Education supported him, and as long as that was the case there wasn't anything he needed to change. He had little to say about the mechanics of teaching, because he never was a teacher, so the subject was foreign to him, and he seemed to be a completely political animal, which didn't surprise me. So when the Christie Administration scandals began piling up, I figured he would be one of the first to leave because, really, there isn't going to be much else to do on education.

Whoever becomes the new chief will essentially be a caretaker for the rest of Christie's term. They'll get to oversee the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum Standards and the PARCC tests and all of the mischief that those will bring. The test scores will ruin some teachers' careers and of course there's all that Facebook money to spend in Newark, but otherwise, I don't see the Democrats caving the way they did in 2011. It will be up to the next administration, presumably, OK, hopefully, a Democratic one, to undo some of the damage. By that time, Cerf will be on to a new adventure.

Meanwhile, education professionals will be left to comply with rules that don't make sense, that don't contribute to the education of children, that saddle districts with unfunded costs associated with unproven and dangerous policies, and that reflect an attitude that doesn't trust educators to, you know, educate. That's hardly a legacy to be proud of.

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