It looks as if, at least for the time being, the saga of Ted Morris, Jr., the 22-year-old wunderkind and his charter school in Rochester seems to have reached, if not an end, at least an intermission, but there's still one big lesson to be learned.
Small Lessons and Predictions
There are also several smaller lessons, such "The internet is a thing that many people have." After Morris hit the news, a handful of bloggers used the magic of the internet to check his story, and once the reporter on the ground in Rochester started digging, everything fell apart. The Democrat and Chronicle was unimpressed enough to also give Morris an editorial spanking. Apparently Morris figured he could just say stuff and nobody would ever notice if much of the stuff was just a flat-out pile of lies.
It remains to see what the sequel to this tale might be. Morris's replacement is Peter Kozik, a college professor (who appears to have actual credentials) at Keuka College (previously at Syracuse) who has done some work for EngageNY in the business of packaging CCSS for students with special needs. In Syracuse he presented on the subject of Pre-K expansion. And he once published a poem entitled "Matryrdon Is For The Young." And he still intends to open the school in the fall.
There are two likely theories about what really comes next. Some folks are guessing that this is simply a strategic retreat and that Morris will quietly re-emerge to continue running his pet project charter. That's certainly highly likely, but for myself, I see one other possibility. I've known a young con man or two, and they tend to follow a pattern. At first their new friends find them charming, with a confidence that suggests they really know what they're doing. And then reality intrudes, the vision unravels, and the new friends back (or run) away (or to a lawyer). One detail in Morris's story sticks out for me-- even though he's supposedly been a fixture in Rochester his entire life, working in leadership roles since the age of 10, his board of trustees for the charter are new friends, people he dug up, literally, on the internet. Where are the people who have known him his whole life? Why are they not clamoring to help him out? It's possible that his retreat is a dodge, but I think it's also possible that his new friends are just now realizing that they've been had by a confident young scam artist from whom they will now try to detach themselves with the haste.
There's a more important lesson to be learned about the reformsters, and it appears in this D&C follow-up story (reporter Justin Murphy has been working his ass off on this thing) in which he tried to see if he could find somebody on the NY state level who would take responsibility for handing this young liar a school charter (spoiler alert: no). Here's Meryl Tisch on the subject:
"When it comes to the board, it comes with an endorsement from (NYSED) and the local regents," she said. "What we hear is whether ... they've put together a sound application. There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and I think people in (NYSED) need to address that with you."
Or this quote from the Rochester-based regents
"We rely on a considerable amount of data and information provided by applicants, along with conducting many in-person interviews before reaching a decision. If it were to turn out that we were deliberately provided misleading information by an applicant, that would of course call for further review of the issuance of the charter."
NYSED doesn't appear to have commented yet (blizzard + holiday = nobody in office). But the regents' defense is simple-- his paperwork looked fine.
Here's one of the core beliefs of reformsters-- it's all in the paperwork. The paperwork is king. The paperwork is god. In New York, we'll give you paperwork from EngageNY to make sure you do the right thing, and we'll make you submit paperwork in the form of tests to prove you've done what you're supposed to.
People who believe in the Great God Paperwork always make the same mistake-- believing that the paperwork is a true and faithful representation of reality. The paperwork is always reliable, and surely everybody everyone else takes the paperwork just as seriously as the Acolytes of Paperwork do. This is the great frustration of trying to earn almost any grant. Grants are not awarded for some need or merit in the actual world; grants are awarded for doing the best job of filling out the grant application form.
Business, government, even churches are laced with these People of the Paperwork, who believe that reality can only be seen and understood through paperwork, and not through looking at it directly. The People of the Paperwork love CCSS, and especially love high stakes testing, because it generates paperwork, and when we look at paperwork, golly bob howdy, then and only then do we see reality.
And that's why the People of the Paperwork are the easiest people in the world to lie to-- because they never lift their heads out of the paperwork to ask if the beloved charts and graphs and forms and charter school applications actually represent reality.
When the People of the Paperwork get their mitts into education reform, people in schools understand that our job is no longer to actually educate students-- it's to make sure that the paperwork looks good. Ted Morris may not know a damn thing about school (really-- not even how to graduate from it), but he clearly understood one thing-- if the paperwork is right, the bureaucrats in charge will go for it.
When Tisch says that she sees no reason that Morris's charter can't open right on schedule, she's behaving as a true Paperwork Acolyte. After all, Morris himself may turn out to be a fake and a fraud, but his school's paperwork still all looks good. What else matters?