(Update: 22-year-old resigns as founder of charter school; a university says he did not attend as the young man claimed.)
A 22-year-old who says he graduated from high school at age 16, earned a bachelor’s degree at 18, and just earned a doctorate was given permission by the New York Board of Regents to open a charter high school in Rochester.
But after questions arose over whether he told the truth about his credentials, he resigned as the founder, although others on his team said the school will remain on track to open next year.
This entire episode raises questions about just how much due-diligence the regents do when they approve charter schools.
The Democrat & Chronicle reported last week that the New York State Board of Regents has given Ted Morris — chief applicant among a group of 10 educators, business executives, parents and others — permission to open his Greater Works Charter School in Rochester next year. As the tweet above says, he expects to welcome 96 ninth-graders and to expand a grade each year until the school has some 400 students.
Morris said in an e-mail that he is the “founder” and that he has been trying to open a charter school in New York since 2010, but it was only now, on his fourth attempt, that the regents gave permission. Which means he started when he was 18.
The letter of intent from the regents updated July 7, 2014, says this about Morris:
Ted J. Morris, Jr. is the Lead Applicant for and Founder of Greater Works Charter School. He is a life-long resident of Rochester, NY. Currently, Ted is an education consultant with the Morris Firm and has previously held positions such as the Director of Operations, Finance, Development, and Assistant CEO with various non-profit youth, education, and 2 human service-related agencies. He has 7+ years of experience in these fields. Ted has a B.S. in Human Services, an M.S.W. in Non-Profit Leadership and is finishing up his Ed.D. in Administration. Ted will serve on the initial Board of Trustees.
The first Democrat & Chronicle story about Morris said that he attended and graduated from School Without Walls in Rochester in 2008, and then, two years later, earned a bachelor’s degree from the online Western Governors University, an online school founded by by the governors of 19 states. It said he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Concordia University, which has online and on-campus programs near Chicago. But the Democrat & Chronicle discovered that a 2013 Morris resume had different schools mentioned as grantors of his advanced degrees.
When I e-mailed Morris on Monday and asked about School Without Walls, he said he did not in fact graduate from that school but from an online high school in Pennsylvania. He said:
I was born and raised in Rochester, NY and attended the School Without Walls in Rochester, NY. I ultimately graduated from Penn Foster High School in Scranton, PA.
The Democrat & Chronicle has now published a second article saying there are some questions about his credentials, including his claim to have graduated from Western Governors University. According to Tuesday’s piece, the university said it has no record of Morris graduating from the institution. The story also says:
From 2008 on, Morris’ education included little time in a traditional classroom. He also took classes at the online Grand Canyon University and eventually got a master’s and doctoral degrees from Concordia University Chicago through a program that required him to be on campus for one weekend a month, he said Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Katie Wiff, assistant register at Concordia University Chicago, e-mailed me the following:
We’ve been made aware of claims by Ted Morris Jr. that he attended and graduated from Concordia University Chicago. I can find no record of a Ted or Theodore Morris as having ever been a student at Concordia University Chicago. Furthermore, the type of program that is cited in the article (meeting on campus only one weekend a month) is not something that is even offered at the doctoral level through our institution.
The July 7 letter of intent says that Morris was completing his doctorate. Morris did not respond to my question about when he completed his doctorate.
The Tuesday piece in the Democrat & Chronicle lists a number of “apparent misrepresentations” between a 2013 résumé that Morris included with his charter application (there wasn’t one attached to the 2014 application). For example, it says:
Morris wrote he was the assistant chief executive officer for the Hickok Center for Brain Injury, with duties including “developed and implemented all program policies and procedures” and “served as acting CEO in the absence of the CEO.” Elaine Comarella, the center’s CEO, said his title was actually administrative assistant, and that the responsibilities he listed in the resume were “a little overshot.”…
… Morris said that he meant to describe his job as assistant to the CEO, but that he did serve as acting CEO at one point, a claim Comarella disputed.
It also says:
Another of the jobs listed on his resume was director of Church Women United’s Task Force on Courts. That was accurate, but in the resume he submitted to get that position, obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle, he claimed he had bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Almeda University, an unaccredited online school in Idaho.
That apparently isn’t true. He said Tuesday he’d never heard of that school and didn’t know why it was on his resume.
I asked him why he thought that, at his age and level of experience, he could open a school, and he replied:
“I think my wide range of experience, my education, my connection with the local community and youth, and the founding team that I assembled gives my team and I the ability to open the school and to do so successfully. Together, we have over 100 years of combined experience. Members on our team includes a college professor, administrators, business people, parents, and more.”
I also asked him what work he had done with Rochester public schools, and he replied in an e-mail:
“I provided program design, development, and evaluation services. I currently consult for the city of Rochester on President Barack Obama and Mayor Lovely Warren’s “My Brother Keepers” Initiative. I have written and received $3.5 million dollars in grants. I also did a summer youth employment project for the city where our program employed 40 teens for 8 weeks. I have received that grant for about 3 years.”
Morris did not respond to my e-mails Tuesday.
It makes you wonder just what kind of fact-checking the regents do when they approve charter schools. I asked the Regents to explain their process but so far, haven’t heard a thing.