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Rudy Crew No Longer Reluctant to Play Education Politics?

UPDATED

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) plans to appoint former New York City and Miami public schools chief Rudy Crew to the position of "chief education officer" in the state, according to an Associated Press story. The move to appoint Crew is interesting in light of what he has said in the past about the political games school officials can play.

Crew is one of the most visible figures in American K-12 education, having led two out of the four largest school districts in the nation. He's also taught at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, and in January was named president of Revolution K12, an education software company in California.

In a February interview with my Education Week colleague Jason Tomassini, Crew elaborated on one of the benefits of working at an education technology company: "You got an opportunity to think and develop and design in ways that were not inhibited by the natural impediments in public schools. You don't have to go through committees and board reports and so forth. There is a different way by which things get developed, and there is a more nimble way that things get brought into the market."

That wasn't the first time Crew expressed some disdain for the politics of education. In a September 2008 story in Education Week by my colleague Catherine Gewertz detailing the Miami school board's decision to ditch Crew after a big push to hire him, Crew argued that his adherence to the academic side of his job ultimately led to his dismissal: "A fair analysis of this is that I didn't run in the political lane, out of preference for running in the academic lane. I just paid the price for it. I knew this price would be paid."

But now, Crew is a political appointee of a state governor. Tim Raphael, a spokesman for Kitzhaber, told the AP that, "The governor is excited to have found somebody with the experience, with the national reputation for innovation, and with the courage for change that Dr. Crew brings to Oregon."

The state's chief education officer was a position created by state law in 2011, the same law that created the Oregon Education Investment Board, which is separate from the state board of education and is designed to oversee significant changes to the state's education system. That board, by the way, is led by Kitzhaber, who also selected its members. Crew is technically being hired by this board.

But see if you can follow the following description of Crew's job. Among other things, he has to "design, organize and implement a state-level P-20 system" for Oregon; oversee new "achievement compacts" that Oregon's school districts must enter into with the state that set targets for areas such as test scores and college matriculation; direct the work of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission; oversee the development of a longitudinal data system; and reorganize the plan for early childhood services. In addition, according to this document, he has the authority of a deputy superintendent of public instruction.

Where does all that leave Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo (who, by the way, was elected by popular vote and not appointed by Kitzhaber)? And could Crew's appointment be a recipe for political strife? In addition to the state board of education and state superintendent, now there is both an education investment board and state chief education officer.

To be fair, Castillo did publicly laud Crew's appointment.

Kitzhaber's education advisor, Ben Cannon, told me in March that the state wouldn't hesitate to "lean on" districts that it felt weren't creating sufficiently rigorous compacts. That sounds like the state wants the chief education officer (namely, Crew) to exercise political muscle, on behalf of Kitzhaber, and make sure the compacts are settled the way the governor wants them. Crew's also has final approval power over these compacts, and there is no appeals process.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the extent to which Crew will act as Kitzhaber's enforcer and the potential for backroom brawls. But he does have authority over vast swathes of the state education system, and seems to sit somewhere both over and under Castillo.

UPDATE

I was very remiss for omitting the fact that the position of state superintendent in Oregon is due to be eliminated at the start of 2015 when Castillo's term expires, or earlier if she leaves the position before the expiration of her term. The governor then becomes officially the head of public instruction in the state, and appoints a deputy superintendent (the position Crew will eventually fill). Still, if Castillo serves out her full term, she and Crew (and Kitzhaber) will have to work together for over two years.

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