New York

Chris Cerf and the charter school parent vote

You can say a lot of things about Chris Cerf, the top Klein deputy who’s now joining the Bloomberg campaign. He’s passionate and fearlessly blunt about his view for how to improve schools. He can also be jolly and pragmatic, managing despite his tough talk on teachers unions to craft a solid working relationship with Randi Weingarten. But for someone who falls squarely on one side of a bitterly divided education world, this line just doesn’t make sense:

Mr. Cerf, a widely admired figure in the education world,

Which education world, New York Times?

The first thing we can learn from this piece of news is that Bloomberg definitely means to continue trying to shape the education world into the one Cerf supports. But whether Cerf will really be capable of doing what the Bloomberg campaign seems to expect him to do — deliver the charter school parent vote — is a wide open question.

Organizing public school parents is hard for anyone, and Cerf has struggled just as much as everyone else who ever tried. Indeed, some of his efforts epitomize the awkward desire of the white, Ivy League-educated “reformer” to reach out to the poor, minority communities their efforts seek to help.

Cerf was a mastermind behind Klein’s first big political push, the Education Equality Project, whose approach to grassroots mobilization included working closely with the Rev. Al Sharpton, who agreed after receiving a large donation to his nonprofit. Despite the partnership, turnout to a trumpeted EEP rally in D.C. was disappointing, and EEP has not thrown any followup rallies since.

Allies of Cerf’s former employer, the for-profit education turnaround company Edison Schools, also turned to Sharpton in 2003, seeking his support for their effort to take control of five struggling New York City schools. But the effort didn’t work, and the schools were never privatized.

Cerf was the no. 2 adviser to Joel Klein at Tweed Courthouse.
Cerf was the no. 2 adviser to Joel Klein at Tweed Courthouse.

Still, there are some reasons for the Bloomberg campaign to think Cerf could help them. He is seen as the mastermind behind a parent outreach push to renew mayoral control, which in turn is seen as a success. It was Cerf who hired Peter Hatch, the director of the group Learn NY, which managed to persuade a long list of community groups to sign onto its platform, getting parents to show up at rallies and take a bus to Albany.

Of course, it was Hatch, not Cerf, who led the group, and city contracts with many groups on the Learn NY list no doubt helped. Also, it’s far from clear that Learn NY really delivered a stirring in the streets. At rallies I attended, Learn NY parents always appeared slightly bored.

Charter school parents in particular are what the campaign seems to want Cerf to organize, and that might be an easier audience. The pro-mayoral control effort, for instance, was boosted by charter school parents, who often seemed much more energetic in their sign-holding than Learn NY parents. But whether Bloomberg can count on charter school parents to turn out for his campaign with as much energy is an open question.

“I think that the mayor has really taken the charter school community for granted,” Joe Williams, the executive director of the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, just told me on the phone. Williams, whose group fights on the state and federal level for policies friendly to charter schools, said that the mayor cut charter school funding from his capital plan, declined to help charter supporters fight a state cut in funding to the schools, and has not supported charter school leaders in their gruesome fights over school space.

Parents, he said, are paying attention. “They’ve watched as their school leaders have gotten the shit kicked out of them, trying to get space for their public schools in public buildings,” Williams said. “It’s the kind of thing, if the mayor was leading on it, the mayor would be able to take all the hits. But he’s let the charter school leaders dangle out there, taking all the hits.”

Cerf, talking to me from his new desk at Bloomberg’s campaign headquarters, wouldn’t get into specifics about his new role, except to say that he had taken the job because he thinks keeping the mayor in office is important for public education. “I really do believe that what has happened in New York is incredibly important and powerful and has been more effective than any urban reform ever that I can think of,” he said.

“It should be an interesting 50 days,” he said of his new job. “That’s when the election is. Actually, 48 days, 9 hours, 39 minutes, and 22 seconds. There’s a little time clock here.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.