Sunday, July 07, 2013

Cerf's Response to Jeanne Allen's Critique

In a recent post, I highlighted the spirited debates among school reformers and as an example included a letter written by Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, criticizing NJ state education Commissioner Chris Cerf. I disagreed with Allen’s critique – and not surprisingly, Cerf did as well. Below is his response – here’s the beginning:

Over the past three years in New Jersey, we have set a course for choice and innovation that is quite different from the one that Jeanne espouses.  Jeanne believes that more charter schools are good simply because they contain the word “charter.”  I have chosen a different path.  I am a strong believer in choice and charter schools, and I have worked hard to expand choice for our neediest students.  But, I have advanced beyond a “more is better” ideology to one that focuses first and foremost on whether the choices that we are offering are high-quality ones that will put students on a path to success.

Over the past three years, we have increased the number of charter seats in New Jersey by 50%, from just over 20,000 students to more than 30,000 students.  We have opened 25 new charter schools, almost exclusively for our lowest-performing students.  And we have helped to expand our highest-performing charter operators in places like Newark, including more than 1,000 new seats in TEAM and North Star schools, respectively members of the KIPP and Uncommon networks.  

However, I inherited a charter sector in New Jersey that had some extremely low performers. 

Allen’s response to Cerf’s response – here’s the beginning:

Thanks so much, Whitney, for giving me an opportunity to respond to Chris Cerf’s “Open Letter” which was responding to the Center for Education Reform’s original critique of his decision to pull the prior approval of two charter proposals which both provided for virtual learning platforms. One was a partnership between a 30-year veteran of public education – and a religious sister to boot – with community colleges. The other was a local parent partnership with K12, Inc. Both remain in our opinion worthy of New Jersey families who are able to make choices in ways that many of us cannot fathom. Both remain worthy of consideration, trial and constant review, just as all public schools should be reviewed. Both are just ONE piece of a very big, big set of solutions that we must offer to children whose livelihoods are threatened by the current lack of quality offerings across the traditional sectors. And thus we were upset and saddened that both had their original charters retracted, based on, the letter to the schools said, that virtual learning is just not yet proven. The sudden termination of both provisional charters awarded was met with concern not just by CER, but by the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the American Federation of Children, the latter which issued a release to that effect. Neither of those received any condemnation from Commissioner Cerf.

I have long believed that when ideologues on both extremes of an issue take to the airwaves to criticize you, you are probably doing something right.  Take the most recent example: while I fight off a union lawsuit criticizing me for opening two blended-learning charter schools in New Jersey this year, Jeanne Allen at the Center for Education Reform (CER) alleges that I “continually discouraged the creation and growth of innovative and often organic schools of choice.”  Sadly, her latest criticism contained so many inaccuracies (including an oddly gratuitous and incorrect statement that I attended Deerfield and Harvard) that I feel compelled to set the record straight.  

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