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Rudy Crew: Platitudes and Dreams

Oregon has hired a new Chief of Education to oversee all k-12 schools and community colleges. I was curious as to who this person is so I ordered his book, Only Connect. My guess is that we have a 50-50 chance of getting our moneys worth from him. If I had to bet money, it would be on the side that he leaves within 2 years and takes a handsome settlement with him. Our system would frustrate the crap out of him and he would leave in the middle of changes that haven't been finished so our costs would be even higher. This has happened before with Goldschmidt, a newly minted child molester, leaving our higher education board in the middle of changes.

From the book I've gleamed some good things and bad.

The good:

1. This is a good, honest man. He grew up *exactly* how I want my leaders. He understands the poor but he is firm. He understands race as he is African-American. He understands business as that is his background. He has integrity as his father carefully developed these aspects. He is super smart and doesn't shy from big problems. I can't say enough about him. I truly believe this man is great.

2. He is open to ideas. He thinks that there should be choice for parents. He thinks the business and religious communities should step up and help public education. He thinks the arts are a key part of education. He thinks parents need to have a pivotal part of the education of their children (to ask about homework and help where they can, hold schools accountable and demand quality education, have a place to do homework and ensure eating at least one meal together).

The not so good:

1. Crew is a big vision guy. If you think he will single-handedly fix education in Oregon you will be sorely disappointed. He doesn't have the nuts and bolts vision of fixing the problems. He lives in a dream of long ago when things were simpler.

2. His idea that the business community can help in public education is unrealistic. He seems to not realize that most small businesses (I mean under 25 employees) are struggling and larger businesses (over 25) are simply trying to figure out how to pay for health care. If the business community weren't involved with health care, if we had socialized medicine, it would free them up to help with public education.

3. His idea that parents can help with homework and ensure homework is finished is also unrealistic. He seems to not realize that teachers are not required to list homework, even on a website, or ensure students write it down correctly. There is no teacher accountability. He seems to think a parent can fix this. Like the US can go into Afghanistan and fix all their historical issues. If we worked toward making the internet inexpensive and a right, not a privilege, parent participation can certainly move forward as that is the most efficient and inexpensive way a teacher can convey homework, grades, information, etc.

4. Crew also doesn't address the issue of textbooks, the behemoth industry that controls standards, tests, and costs. I didn't see a vision to deal with this. Instead he talks about national standards - granted, this is an old book written in 2007 before Common Core State Standards were introduced or even envisioned. By creating open standards, schools, districts, and even states can create open educational resources (OERs) such that teachers and parents are on the "same page." Students can bring home homework and parents can help the students because there will be websites dedicated to answering questions and giving plentiful examples even via multimedia. When textbooks, worksheets, and teaching curriculum are licensed under "Creative Commons" these tools become possible.

5. He wants to hear from teachers, administrators, parents, and others for ideas. But if you have specific problems, you must go through the education "chain of command." Unfortunately, the chain of command is often not interested in hearing ideas from "down below" because many ideas stem from dealing directly with problems with the public education system. So in essence, Crew really doesn't want to hear your problems which can lead to great ideas for solutions.

6. Crew thinks the school should be the center of community. I couldn't agree more. However, he doesn't seem to deal with the issue of a sue happy nation and school systems that are now designed to simply cover their butts. When you have to be bonded to have a neighborhood association meeting in the school building, which is part of the neighborhood association, there is a problem here.

7. Crew doesn't really discuss curriculum quality. As a child he struggled with reading and algebra. His father's answer was to work hard, take extra jobs, and hire a tutor. He doesn't cover the fact that at least 20% of Oregon students are Rudy Crew. They are struggling. The fact is, good curriculum, carefully crafted, can help these students get from Point A to Point B in their learning. The fact is, ALL students should be reading by the end of first or second grade unless they have a valid reason like a very serious disability. And yet Crew doesn't seem to realize that the cost of tutoring is sky high now because "back in his day" small jobs like tutoring were reasonably priced for people even earning a low wage. Today we have an economy where most struggle to eat or transport themself to work and many are finding themselves in a minimum wage job between $6 and $10 an hour. To compare minimum wage between the 1950s and today, we would need to set minimum wage to $15 an hour.

I'm hoping I'm wrong about Crew. Maybe he will be able make one or two fundamental changes that lead to more changes down the road. Maybe he will cut the ties with PERS or PEBB, allow teachers to vote at each school to be part of the PERS/PEBB or drop it in favor of hiring more teachers and having a better quality of life for the teachers and students. Or maybe he will push for Creative Commons curriculum and textbooks so that we are no longer beholden to a textbook publishing industrial complex. Maybe he will make a state-wide website where parents and teachers can both go to look at curriculum, ask questions, and get more information. Or maybe he will just help create a site for the Common Core State Standards, to explain them, to give examples, to link to curriculum so that the public and teachers really understand each and every standard in full.

I think that the school system in Oregon is headed for even bumpier times. Funding is getting even tighter. PERS is getting hungrier. Morale is getting lower. Students are getting poorer (read the Oregonian article about more students qualifying for free and reduced lunch). Our job as a state and community is to think of creative ways to deal with this. I just won't hang my hat on Crew to help.