N.J. education chief to resign

Chris Cerf, N.J. education commissioner for three years.
Chris Cerf, N.J. education commissioner for three years.
Posted: February 13, 2014

Chris Cerf, Gov. Christie's education commissioner for the last three years, who helped usher in big changes like a new tenure law, a new teacher-evaluation system, and increased school choice, announced Tuesday that he would step down at the end of the month.

Cerf, 59, is leaving his $141,000-a-year post to work for an educational-technology company headed by his old boss, former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

The former deputy chancellor will become chief executive of Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Cerf, whose past posts include heading Edison Schools, a major school-management company, said his decision to leave had nothing to do with recent scandals involving the Christie administration.

"Over the past three years, we have taken a number of significant steps forward as a state," Cerf said in a statement.

Among those, he said, is a law that ties getting and keeping tenure to educator effectiveness; putting the Camden district under state control; opening more than 30 new charters and closing 10 low-performing charters; instituting a statewide school-accountability system; and moving forward with a plan to implement Common Core standards.

Christie, in a statement, called Cerf "one of the most passionate and articulate voices for the greatest civil rights challenge of our time: delivering a high-quality education for every child in our state regardless of zip code or socio-economic status."

The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, which worked cooperatively with Cerf on the tenure law, criticized the commissioner as rushing ahead with what president Wendell Steinhauer called a "flawed" teacher-evaluation system that "relies too heavily on a new, costly, and unproven" standardized test system, due to be implemented shortly.

"In Cerf's new position, he and his company will profit from selling assessment products and services to public schools struggling to adapt to exactly the kind of misguided mandates that Cerf's Department of Education is currently imposing on New Jersey's schools," Steinhauer said.

He "strongly" urged that the next education commissioner have a "deep background in public education," with significant classroom experience.

Cerf, in an interview, called his union critics "willfully ignorant."

He said the timing of the implementation of the evaluations and the inclusion of student-growth data was in the legislation they supported. He also took exception to talk that he and his company stood to profit from his policies. If his company in the future has dealings with the state, he said, all regulations "would be followed to a T."

Klein said he was looking forward to Cerf's starting at Amplify on March 3.

"Chris really gets what it takes - at every level - to help prepare students for success," Klein said.

Lawrence E. Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, noted Cerf's emphasis on "economically challenged" districts.

"We might not have agreed with all of his initiatives," Feinsod said. "However, one cannot dispute the sincerity of his beliefs."

Cerf began his career as a high school history teacher in Cincinnati, where he worked for four years. He went on to graduate from Columbia Law School. He served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton.

Bret Schundler, Christie's first education commissioner, was fired over a failed federal Race to the Top aid application. Christie said Schundler misled him. Schundler accused Christie of lying and putting his feud with the teachers' union over funding for the state.

Wireless Generation, a company that Amplify's website says was the foundation the current company was built on, was a consultant on the aid application. Schundler said the consultant should have caught information missing from the application.

No new commissioner has been announced, said Michael Yaple, state Education Department spokesman.




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