After four years of consistently disastrous misleadership, Cami Anderson will be stepping down as head of Newark Schools.
The announcement came today, attached to the name of Commissioner David Hespe. Who finally shoved Anderson out the door? It doesn't really matter. In the manner of other reformsters, I expect that she will fail upwards.
That's the good news. The less good news is that, contrary to Bob Braun's report last week, Anderson will not be replaced by Chris Cerf on a temporary basis; instead, Cerf will reportedly be offered a three year contract. While expectations of an Anderson resignation have been kicking around for at least a year, the emptying of her office gave new life to those expectations. Whoever shoved her gets no credit; Anderson's administration has been so clearly dysfunctional and addicted to failure that it's hard to think of anything that she ever did even sort of right. Leaving her in office this long has been its own sort of spectacular failure, like driving from New York to San Francisco in a car that blew out all four tires somewhere around Philadelphia. You don't get any genius points for finally doing something about the problem that has been killing you for years.
Cerf, of course, comes with a strong reformster pedigree. He worked for Joel Klein from 2006 to 2009, helping make a hash out of New York City schools. He became New Jersey's school chief next, leaving that job in 2014 at about the same time that Bridgegate was taking off. Cerf left directly to work for his old boss Klein at Amplify, the company that Rupert Murdoch hoped would help him cash in in the educational tech biz. No sooner had Cerf exited his New Jersey office then Cami Anderson awarded Amplify over $2 million worth of contracts. It is a cozy club that reformster belong to.
Cerf is one of those guys who has no regrets and never admits a mistake. But Amplify has been a train wreck. They were going to revolutionize education with tablets and on-line content. But, as Bloomberg put it, "that hasn't happened." Amplify couldn't come up with hardware that worked, software that worked, content that impressed anybody, and a workable plan to crack the crowded school market. They couldn't crack the market in assessments, they couldn't get their own internal bureaucracy sorted out, and they couldn't stop hemorrhaging money, making their market as the one division of News Corp that couldn't turn a profit. So when News Corp started waving its ax around, Amplify felt the cutting edge.
Cerf's trajectory is unusual-- he returns to New Jersey in a lower position than he left. But there is no reason to think that his arrival in Newark will be good news for anybody. At the same time, he will be facing some of the strongest, smartest and most experienced student and community activists anywhere in the country. It's true that Anderson set the bar low-- she couldn't even bring herself to speak with anybody in the community. But Cerf is walking into a huge mess with a four-year history of denying Newark citizens any semblance of democracy and any imitation of a working plan for running a public school system.
Cerf starts at the beginning of July. It should be an interesting summer.