Crossing the Hudson: Cerf to Trenton

One-time NYC deputy schools chancellor Christopher Cerf has been appointed commissioner of education for New Jersey. Not a surprising choice, given Governor Chris Christie’s determination  to remake the Garden State’s schools.

According to the Times, the appointment “signals the governor’s continued intent to upend the educational establishment and put his stamp on the state’s schools.”

Indeed, Cerf, who was a teacher early in his career, went on to become a lawyer, clerked at the Supreme Court and worked at Joel Klein’s D.C. law firm.  (He is not, as far as I can tell, Bennett Cerf’s son; that’s the other Christopher Cerf.)  Cerf worked in the White House in the late 1990s and became an education reformer when hired by Edison Schools in 1997. (For those of you wanting to see an employment contract, Cerf’s agreement with Edison Schools, in which he was to earn a cool $200,000 a year, is available here. The Garden State job pays only $147,000.)

Cerf did not spend time at the center of Gotham’s public schools revolution – where he helped press for tenure and teacher evaluation reform and had a  “portfolio [that] included organizational strategy, external relations (press, communications, politics, etc.), innovation and R&D, and all aspects of human capital,” according to his Education Equality Project bio — without earning some battle scars.  He should be up the challenges of the Garden State’s political struggles.  (No story on New Jersey education is complete with referencing this YouTube bestseller, showing Christie taking on a teacher.)  And he tells the Times that the achievement gap is “shameful.”

Those of you wanting to get a flavor for the NYC battles, should visit the “great debate” between Sol Stern and Cerf in Eduwonk in 2008.

The Cerf appointment must still pass muster with the New Jersey legislature

–Peter Meyer

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