2000-01-01 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

I would give Rudy Crew a B+ for his ideas and a C- for pushing them through the bureaucracy and the special interest groups.

I like Crew and he tried to do the right thing most of the time.

He failed!

He might have been doomed from the get-go.

As an outsider coming in, he had a tough road to hoe. It did not help that his top aides were not only outsiders from another solar system. In addition, they had no background in education. Judy Rizzo was a fund-raiser. The others came from the business world.

This should send a message to the board and to the mayor. There are many people in the system who could do the job and who would not need to get up to speed. Hiring a CEO type for the job would be an option if the new chancellor would then surround himself (or herself) with knowledgeable school people.

The conventional wisdom that everybody inside the system is part of the problem and not of the solution is largely a lie.

What grades should Crew get on his final report card?

Social Promotion--ideas (B+):

Crew was the first chancellor in years to suggest that social promotion was wrong and to begin to so something about it.

Social Promotion--execution (C-): Crew gave in too easily to the special interests groups in special education and elsewhere. Social promotion can only be ended by holding everybody to the same standards. If some kids are exempt, then the process will fall apart.

Special Programs (D+): Crew brought with him the infamous Efficacy Institute. The institute (headed by Judy Rizzo’s husband) was given millions of dollars to train teachers to understand that children failed because they (the teachers) were all racists. There is no record of any reading scores rising in any of the schools that used Efficacy Institute training. In fact, PS 105’s scores dropped precipitously the year after the institute training. In addition, he pushed funding for other programs such as "The Little Red Schoolhouse" and "Success for All," programs that have never proven to work. His highly ballyhooed "Project Read" has not shown the results that he promised.

Community Involvement (D): Crew never got involved in the community in any real way. He was never seen at festivals or parades or at community meetings. He pretty much stayed to himself and that hurt him ultimately because he had no friends, no constituency when it came down to him against the mayor.

Inculcating new standards (B-): There are standards and there are standards. The State Ed Department set standards in each curricula area. They are broad and general. At the same time, the city bought (at an immense expense) into the New Standards in English Language Arts, the New Standards in Mathematics and the New Standards in Applied Learning. Those latter programs come from the University of Pittsburgh and they list all of the things that kids in specific grades ought to be able to do. The city then adapted the standards and set rubrics so that teachers would know what a "standard setting piece" looks like.

The standards were supposed to be the same for every child. For example, the E1a Standard says that each child should read 25 books or "book equivalents" (the emphasis is mine) each year. What is a "book equivalent?" Nobody seems to know. Students who are reading on grade level, for example, can read a novel such as "My Brother Sam is Dead." Kids who are reading way below grade level might not be able to handle that book. Does reading a few selections from a high-interest, low-readability magazine constitute a "book equivalent?" I would think so, but many other educators say that a book is a book and that students must read 25 "real" books to meet the standard.

In addition, the state Regents have voted (with Chapey the elder abstaining, as usual), that kids who do not meet the promotional standard by passing standardized tests can still get promoted if they have a "portfolio" of "standard-setting work," whatever that means. Does it mean that everybody passes? It certainly sounds like it to me and I don’t like it at all.

Leadership (D+): Crew has not been a good leader. For example, he forced District 27 superintendent Brenda Isaacs to retire, reportedly because of the district’s low reading scores. It later turned out that the scores were not that low after all. In fact, there were several districts whose scores were lower than ours and the superintendent’s remained in place. I believe, and others do as well, that Isaac’s removal was a political move rather than an educational move. It made no sense educationally. In fact, the schools in the "Chancellor’s district" are doing worse than many schools in regular districts even though the chancellor has taken them over and pumped in special programs and more money.

I learned in the military those many years ago that you can’t lead by fear. That is Crew’s best move and it does not work.

Bilingual Education/Special Education (D-): Crew did little to curb the excesses of these politically motivated programs. He did fund some experimentation on the "inclusion model," where 15 regular ed students and 12 hand-picked special ed students share a classroom with two teachers–one a regular ed teacher and the other a special ed teacher. The experiment will probably work out ok because the special ed kids are hand-picked and because there is a student to teacher ration of 13:1, far lower than the traditional classroom. What will happen if the experiment is a success and the city tries to duplicate over a wide range of classes is anybody’s guess. I don’t see how they are going to pay for that ratio in the long run.

Despite studies that show that it doesn’t work and that it harms Hispanic students, Crew has done little to address the racist, expensive bilingual program. It is time to do away with it and teach the students in the program the language they will need to perform in the real world. It can easily be replaced with a one year bilingual experience followed by an ESL program for those who are not native English speakers.

What will happen when Crew leaves? Nobody is sure. As I write this, the central board is meeting to discuss the issue. I expect that they will pick an interim chancellor and then set out to find a full-time person.

Lots of names have been mentioned for the interim job: Herman Badillo, who has wanted the job for years; Robert Kiley, the chair of the New York City Partnership; Frank Machearola, who was chancellor once before and is now a college president; Wil Rojas, who was a district superintendent and now works elsewhere.

The board wants to have an interim chancellor by January 12. It might then take months to find somebody who is qualified and who wants the politically-charged job.

This might have ramifications for our district.

I really believe that Crew wanted an outsider to lead this district. With Crew gone, Matt Bromme, the current acting superintendent, might have a legitimate shot at the job after all. At the least, Bromme will probably remain in the position until a full-time chancellor comes on board.

That is all up in the air now. It is going to be an interesting few months in the education community.


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