Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chris Cerf, if you’re reading this, your press office is not doing their job!

See Elizabeth Green’s story in the NY Sun about how seven DOE PR officers monitor 24 key education blogs and list servs, and occasionally try to refute the critiques within them, including our NYC education news list serv, and this blog.

They call themselves the “Truth Squad” but we know that the members of our list serv are the real truth squad. I am glad, however, that the powers that be feel compelled to respond to some of our observations, even though it is so often done in a perfunctory and unconvincing fashion.

As I was quoted in the article, "It's good that the press operation actually hears our complaints, because Joel Klein doesn't seem to."

The article does not come as much news to me, since we all figured out more than a year ago that this was happening.

We had a fun time when the now-departed but not-forgotten Robert Gordon, author of the highly flawed “fair student funding” scheme was the first Tweedie to subscribe (Feb. 9, 2007). Gordon answered some of our questions, unsatisfactorily – and then quickly unsubscribed. (Mar 21, 2007)

David Cantor, the chief press officer, soon followed by subscribing in Feb 28, 2007. Adina Lopatin, of the Accountability office, subscribed one week later, around the time that I’d attended one of their screwy focus groups for their screwy parent survey.

Though the NY Sun article says that only one person from the press office is assigned to each blog or list serv, actually three of them, including Cantor, subscribe to our list serv: Melody Meyer (who joined up in Apr 2, 2007) and Lindsay Harr (Apr 11, 2007).

Cantor began to post himself occasionally, in a rather perfunctory manner, but not until December 11, 2007 -- nearly one year after he had joined, initially about the NY Mag article which quoted Klein as saying to parents that they could send their kids to private school if they didn’t like class sizes in the public schools. It later turned out that Klein said something else very similar – that District 2 parents had “choices,” but when I asked Cantor what that specifically meant, if not sending their kids to private schools, he never replied.

Since then he has interjected so rarely (only about ten times ) that the main effect of his desultory comments makes me suspect that nearly everything else that I and the other members of this list serv write, including some extremely inflammatory statements, must be true. I also don’t get the feeling that poor David enjoys the task that Chris Cerf has assigned him to.

None of this is particularly surprising, but what did surprise me is what I learned during a forum a few months ago, in April, on “Grading NY’s public schools.” During the question period, I asked Cerf a question. I began by introducing myself, but he quickly interrupted me to say, “I know who you are; I read your stuff every day.”

Every day? Not in my wildest dreams had I imagined that Cerf or anyone at that high a level at Tweed had the inclination or the time to do this. Sometimes I don’t even read myself every day – I’m too busy. I know my husband almost never does. I doubt most of the people on the list serv do.

But I was happy to hear this, if a bit surprised that Cerf had admitted this, for if I and others on our list can cause him one tenth the headaches that Tweed causes us every day, not to mention the other one million plus NYC public school parents -- that does give me a small sense of satisfaction.

After looking at the historical record, I now conclude that what probably started as a pure monitoring exercise, instigated by Cerf in Feb. of 2007 eventually turned into a rather lame attempt to beat the critics at their own game nearly a year later.

It was in October 2007, after all, that it emerged that Diane Ravitch had been taped by the DOE at various speaking events, and a file compiled of her remarks.

This news was also broken by Elizabeth Green in the NY Sun, following a vicious attack on Diane published in the NY Post the day before, in the form of an oped with the byline of Kathy Wylde, head of the NYC Partnership, but with information put together by the DOE press office. This was a terrific PR blunder on the part of Cerf and Co., as nearly everyone and their mother came to Diane’s defense – not that she needed their help; she offered her own eloquent response in the NY Post.

It was shortly thereafter, in Dec. of 2007 that David Cantor started commenting on our list serv, after the NY Magazine article was published that must have caused them much grief. It was only then that the vociferous rage of public school parents about school overcrowding, which had reached crisis proportions in certain neighborhoods, without the administration even so much as lifting a finger, began to break into the mainstream media.

In Elizabeth’s article, it says that “The squad's latest triumph should appear today on a Listserv operated by the parent organizer Leonie Haimson — in the form of an e-mail message arguing that Ms. Haimson's characterization of summer school programs as underfunded was incorrect.

We’re still waiting for that email message, by the way. As well as answers to lots more questions we have posed to David Cantor over the last few days and weeks.

Chris Cerf, if you’re reading this, your press office is not doing their job!

Update: the article in the NY Sun has delighted the bloggers, of course, many who have blogged about it already -- for some links click here.

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