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New York Charter Approval Process an Object Lesson Against Common Core?

December 2, 2014

In November 2014, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and New York State Regents approved a charter to open September 2015 in Rochester, New York: Greater Works Charter School (GWCS).

The lead applicant of GWCS, Ted J. Morris, Jr., lied about his credentials. Still NYSED and Regents approved GWCS. As his fraudulent credentials and embellished experience were exposed, Morris resigned from the GWCS board. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch tried to deflect blame to NYSED. Neither NYSED nor Regents expressed any inclination to revoke GWCS’s approval despite there being no assurance that Morris would not return in some capacity.

For the back story, see this link, then this link, and finally, this link.

Now, in a wonderful turn of events for the community of Rochester, NYSED asked the GWCS board to rescind its application, and the GWCS board did so. Therefore, to quote the now-former-GWCS board chair Peter Kozik, “Greater Works is done.”

However, here is a nugget regarding the NYSED charter approval process, one divulged by NYSED spokesperson Dennis Tompkins: “We don’t grant charters to individuals. We grant charters to boards based on the application.” [Emphasis added.]

NYSED apparently does not investigate the individuals behind the application. What is in the application is taken at face value.

And you know what came to my mind?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ELA and its emphasis on New Criticism literary analysis. This means that CCSS ELA requires students to remain within a text when citing evidence.

That’s why CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman’s favored technique of “close reading” is so suited to teaching CCSS ELA.

Thus, the text stands as its own unchallenged authority.

This is a dangerous practice when the stakes are high– as they are in choosing to hand over both children and state funding to charter schools.

In the case of NYSED charter approval, what apparently constitutes a “sound application” is one that “looks good” and that serves as its own final authority.

In other words, in “soundly approving” charter applications, NYSED performs a “close read”: It does not look beyond the information as it is presented in the application itself– an amazing opportunity for fraud.

No verification of credentials and experience of the lead applicant or prospective board beyond what is written on the application.

A potential fraud bonanza.

To game this lame system, all one must do is create a visually appealing application to gain NYSED approval (and, in turn, rubber-stamped Regents approval). One could completely fabricate the credentials and experience that the individuals involved are supposed to submit as part of the application.

CCSS ELA in all of its real-world limitation.

How pathetic that NYSED needed a Ted J. Morris, Jr., to come along and be blown away in (primarily) social media in order to discover the folly of their flimsy “review” process.

So now, as the December 1, 2014, Democrat and Chronicle reports, NYSED is protecting Charter School Office Director Bill Clarke from the press while it reconsiders its use of “close reading” as its preferred method of approving charter applications:

NYSED would not make Bill Clarke, its charter school office director, available for an on-the-record interview, and did not respond to specific questions about Greater Works, but spokesman Tom Dunn said the department is reviewing its charter school application process.

I can just imagine the flurry of emails and other communications transpiring among NYSED, the GWCS board, and even Regents over this Bill-Clarke-directed “close read” embarrassment.

But don’t blame Bill. It seems he was only following “fewer, clearer, higher.”

NYSED (and Regents) charter approval ineptitude: The closest CCSS ELA has come to being piloted to date.

Potential lesson learned:

Sometimes, one must exit a text in order to access other texts, or individuals, or other communications and evidence, for purposes of authentication.

NYSED needs common sense, not Common Core. But common sense is not so “common.”

New York will have to wait and see if NYSED forsakes its charter-application-review, “close read” insufficiency or just tries for a “rebrand.”


Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic








  1. Thank you Mercedes. Your point is so important. The students and the adults involved in education are just learning a process. Not learning to think…. or using thinking skills beyond a narrowly defined thus limited parameter. This is convergent and not divergent thought processes. Very scary and dangerous for gathering information in any situation.

  2. Fantastic post! It validates why I teach my AP seniors all about the world beyond the text (literary theory/criticism) and why we ELA teachers in general oftentimes wear multiple hats (literature, linguistics, history, philosophy, sociology, etc.) when modeling how to ‘illuminate’ a manuscript beyond a New Critical/close reading.


  3. Celia Oyler permalink

    Brilliant application of David Coleman’s horrible foisting of “close reading” on schools across this country. It is gut-wrenching to watch the 1950’s New Criticism being considered the “standard” for the ELA….The Morris case points out the deep flaws in NYS Department of Ed and in David Coleman’s “close reading”. Thank you for your diligent work.

    • cmzirkelbach permalink

      The 1950s New Criticism led to the 1960s social revolution. My personal belief is 2010’s Common Core will lead to a similar revolt in the very near future.

  4. Laura chapman permalink

    Agree that this a brilliant and devastating example of the perils of the CCSS in ELA and the open invitation to fraud in the charter application process.

  5. Other Spaces permalink

    Mercedes, I’m not sure what Ted’s Facebook page looked like the last time you saw it, but Google cache shows this from early November, with a job listed for him that I don’t recall seeing before, do you?

    • I think you’re right– not listed on the Glamour Shots Linkedin page.

      • Other Spaces permalink

        I wonder if that’s his real job –though probably with a less impressive and cryptic title. They’re a home health care agency and they have an office in Rochester.

      • Other Spaces permalink

        I just discovered some alarming documentation online about Ted J. Morris Jr: He was issued a National Provider Number for health care workers based on his false credentials (MSW & EdD), as indicated here: That’s probably related to the job at the home health care agency and probably so he can obtain funding. If he has no college degrees, I think he’s a serious risk to the people who are being served by that business –and he should not have access to funds.

        Speaking of funds, Ted is also listed as a member of the Advisory Panel for GuideStar:

        I don’t have time to do further research right now, but this guy is looking more and more like a shyster who has fooled a lot of people that should have known better than to accept what he said about his credentials at face value. This is to the detriment of the public and was clearly done for personal gain. He should be charged with fraud before he puts a lot of others at risk.

  6. Florence permalink

    Just listened to Fresh Air and Terry Gross’s guest was attorney Jeffrey Toobin. They were talking about the courts and ObamaCare. It seems that conservative attorneys attacking ObamaCare are using the concept of “textualism” to interpret the law.

    (According to various online site definitions, “textualism” is used by religious groups who believe in the strict adherence of Biblical text.)

    During this term, the Supreme Court will be hearing the case against health insurance subsidies. Jeffrey Toobin said that Justice Antonin Scalia is considered to be a “textualist”. The attorneys opposed to ObamaCare will argue that only the exact words of the law and not the intent of the legislation is to be considered.

    Sounds a lot like “close reading.”

    • Other Spaces permalink

      Sounds more like closed reading. And also extremely selective and hypocritical, since their ilk look the other way when the letter of the law is not followed by those promoting segregated schools and vouchers for religious schools. If anyone needs term limits, it’s SCOTUS.

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