Commentary

THE CREW LEGACY

by Jacquelyn Kamin

(31 jan '00) People liked Dr. Rudolph Crew, the big man with the baby face. They liked what he had to say - that all children can learn. They liked the intelligent people he attracted to 110 Livingston Street and the new ideas they brought with them. Now is a good time to look at the framework the Chancellor and his colleagues built for the City school system.

Their plan rested on three goals: 1) Students, parents, teachers and administrators must know what teachers should be teaching and children learning; 2) Everyone in the system, not just students, should be accountable to someone for their success or failure; 3) Resources should be allocated most effectively to promote student achievement of clear levels of proficiency.

1) Being Clear. To effect the first goal, the State and City adopted rigorous academic standards for English language, arts, mathematics and science. Booklets explaining the standards were sent to each community school district and high school superintendents, and districts were expected to use them to guide their educational planning and professional development of teachers and parents. This year simple pamphlets explaining the standards for each grade were sent to schools to give out to parents to inform them of what should be happening in their child's classroom.

2) Being Accountable. The second goal has two aspects: assessment and accountability. The system demanded regular, accurate assessment of achievement of its standards. Student assessment now begins as early as kindergarten with a reading test called the E-CLAS. This test, administered yearly through 2nd grade, measures each student's mastery of reading skills and allows the classroom teacher to tailor instruction to meet the needs of particular children. Learning disabilities may be detected and addressed early, so that special education classification is avoided or shortened. E-CLAS is for diagnostic, not promotional purposes.

Beginning in the third grade, standardized testing of English and math skills is used as an important indicator for promotion. New tests were developed to align with the specific skills and content mandated by the standards, thus providing more authentic assessment tools. These test results are used, along with classroom grades and attendance figures, to make promotion decisions. "Social promotion," i.e. moving students automatically with their age group, is over.

Under the Crew approach, students are not the only ones held accountable. Superintendents are now employed by contract, for three year terms. First, they are evaluated by the community school district board with public input, and finally by the Chancellor. The recently signed supervisors contract streamlines the process for removing their ineffective principals, so that they too can more readily be held accountable for their performance.

3) Being Efficient. The third mainstay of the educational framework is the effective allocation of resources. School planning and budgeting decisions have largely been delegated to School Leadership Teams, composed of administrators, teachers and parents (who must comprise at least 50% of the team). It is the mission of the team to write a Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP) each year showing how the school will promote student achievement of the standards. The team also draws a budget for the school, aligning expenditure to the needs and plans identified in the CEP. The district Superintendent and the Chancellor are responsible for drafting and publicizing a yearly educational plan (a CEP for the Superintendent and "Goals and Objectives" for the Chancellor) and aligned budget for the district and school system respectively.

With the delegation of significant planning and budgeting responsibility to the schools, superintendents, teachers and parents, the job of the central administration of the Board of Education (BOE) should shift more and more to a service model - that is, to support school districts and individual schools in efficient and pragmatic ways. An important example is the BOE's provision of critical assessment information through the "School Report Cards" and "District Report Cards" detailing school and (and district) statistics and standardized test scores. Another example is the BOE's negotiation of contracts with providers of goods and services that individual schools may use; better prices may be won by a larger buyer, and the work of procurement is simplified.

So that's the Crew Approach in a nutshell. Dr. Crew once described the City school system with a metaphor: While students are drowning, adults are standing on the shore arguing about who gets to be the captain of the rescue boat, who will hold the oars, who will call the strokesâ The Crew lifeguards built what looks like a very serviceable rescue boat. Now it is up to the Levy Administration - along with the BOE, the Mayor, public school unions and advocates - to row out and saving those drowning kids.

###

Jacquelyn Kamin is a lawyer by training, and is now an active volunteer in the City school system. She was one of the founding members of her child's school leadership team. She is co-chair of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council with Robin Brown.

Check out the Feature Archives!