Rudy Crew, chancellor of this city’s public schools, is paid $245,000 a year— more than the mayor, the governor, or William Jefferson Clinton.
That salary includes the $50,000 raise Crew got earlier this year, when his contract was extended.
For many years, I reported on this city’s schools for The New Yorker. I wrote long articles on previous chancellors— among them Harvey Scribner, Frank Macchiarola, Tony Alvarado, and, during his very brief term, Ramon Cortines. This extraordinarily effective educator was verbally horsewhipped out of town by Rudy Giuliani because he would not become a vassal of the mayor. Rudy Crew is under the control of Giuliani— or he would not be able to continue in this job.
No previous chancellor made the school system work for anywhere near all the kids in it. But Macchiarola and especially Alvarado accomplished some gains, and they were honest educators. They did not lie to the kids or the parents. And Alvarado listened carefully to teachers.
And they had no patience with those failing superintendents, principals, and teachers who believed that if some kids came out of bad homes and mean streets, there wasn’t much the schools could do for them. Those “educators” blamed the parents of kids with dismal scores for not actively participating in their children’s education.
One morning at the Board of Education headquarters in Brooklyn, Frank Macchiarola spoke hard truth to a large assembly of school bureaucrats. He would not accept the idea, he told them, that kids who were poor or came from dysfunctional families could only learn so much in the schools.
“From now on,” Macchiarola told them, “you are to consider those kids orphans— and you are now their parents! And you must be as concerned with their education as if they were your own children!”
His attitude was similar to that of Ramon Cortines, but such views do not, to say the least, characterize the regime of Rudy Crew, whose primary concern is to cover up his failures. After over 30 years of reporting on this city’s schools, I can attest that Crew is the most inept “leader” of the system I have witnessed. If he has any remaining concern for children, he should resign. But, so long as he is loyal to Giuliani, the mayor will allow him to continue failing kids and their parents.
On November 14, Anemona Hartocollis, a first-rate New York Times education reporter, wrote that, “citing declining test scores, state education officials added 21 New York City schools to the list of failing schools [subject to takeover by the state]— bringing the total number in the city to 97.”
The rest of New York State has only four schools on that list. Somehow, other large cities and even underfunded rural areas manage to do better than Crew’s schools.
According to Raymond Domanico, executive director of the Public Education Association, somewhere between 65,000 and 75,000 children are locked up in those failing classrooms! And there are many more kids throughout the school system who are falling behind. The most recent state reading scores were down in all districts in the city— for the third straight year.
Anemona Hartocollis makes the obvious, undebatable point that “for a chancellor who has promised to fashion a ‘performance-driven’ school system, the decline in test scores and the rising number of failing schools was a troubling development.”
And how did the chancellor react to this “troubling development”? The Times has reported that for a week before the state list of 21 failing schools was released, Crew was trying to get State Education Commissioner Richard Mills to change the list— to reduce Dr. Crew’s embarrassment.
“I don’t negotiate,” Mills said.
Rudy Crew’s spinner— supported by us taxpayers— tried to do a Clinton by noting that 18 city schools had been taken off the state’s list of educational dead-end zones. Crew, at one point, said that called for a celebration. But he has had no remotely convincing answer to Hartocollis’s charge that the “new state data raise . . . questions about how much of an impact the chancellor’s policies have had on the lives of children.”
Keep that phrase in mind. Crew is dealing with the lives of children— not only their present but their future. Unless someone seriously intervenes— and it won’t be the mayor— many of these kids will also reach a dead end.
That education was not taking place in those malfunctioning 21 schools was made clear months ago in two studies, one by the Public Education Association and the other by the New York University department of education.
In an October 1997 report, the Industrial Areas Foundation (originally created by Saul Alinsky) and its Metro Parents Group, along with the PEA, charged that although Crew had new legislative powers to reform dead-end schools, he had renewed contracts “for superintendents with clear records of failure” and had promoted “tenure for principals who have presided over failing schools.”
One of the many examples in this report, which was drafted by parents, was the case of District 23, where damaging deficiencies were being reviewed by the state:
“We have obtained documents demonstrating that the chancellor refused to hear the request of reform-minded District 23 school board members that principals [of certain failing schools] be denied tenure. Despite the evidence presented by the local school board regarding the persistent educational failure of these schools, Chancellor Crew approved tenure to these principals.”
If Rudy Crew were the chief executive officer of a company making shoes or software, he would have been fired by now— and without a golden parachute.
Why do the parents of this city continue to suffer his presence?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 29, 1998