Bad Apple

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He subsequently was hired as Sacramento's superintendent, where he was paid $110,000 a year. In 1993 Crew went to Tacoma, Washington. There he earned $125,000 annually and persuaded the school board to spend two million dollars over four years to train teachers using techniques developed by the Efficacy Institute; the controversial Massachusetts think tank advocates a philosophy that all children can be taught to "be smart" — but has shown mixed results.

In fall 1994, fourth- and eighth-grade scores on a state test declined, which Crew labeled "unconscionable." He ordered a special retest for the following spring. This time the results were much better — and Crew was labeled a hero.

But not so fast. In 1997, Abt Associates, a highly regarded consulting firm, issued a report on Tacoma schools. It showed that in the months before the spring 1995 retest, the district held workshops instructing teachers to drill students in test-taking skills. The educators devoted up to 10 hours of student instruction to test strategies, developed a special handbook for principals and teachers, and formed teams to coordinate their efforts. "In our view, the test-score gains are most likely a result of the one-time efforts in March 1995 to increase student test-taking skills," the Abt report concluded.

That report was mentioned in the book Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It, by author and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Peter Sacks. In fact he dedicated a whole chapter to Crew. "The Tacoma story wasn't about student achievement," Sacks wrote. "This was political theater featuring an ambitious and dynamic Rudy Crew and a school board hungry to prove that its schools weren't a mess."

Today Sacks says Crew represents a breed of superintendent that is more politician than educator. "The best of them know how to manipulate their environment to their advantage," Sacks says. "They are like Wall Street investors who are always searching for short-term gains in stock prices that may or may not be good for the company. That is what happened in Tacoma."

Crew will "hop around from school district to school district, do these quick and dirty turnarounds. But when he leaves, it crashes," Sacks adds.

After Tacoma, though, Crew was a hot commodity. In 1995 he snagged the top job as the schools chancellor in New York City, with a $195,000 annual salary and free use of a Brooklyn townhouse. Two years later the New York Legislature gave Crew the power to appoint and remove superintendents in the five boroughs.

During the early part of his tenure, he worked alongside then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to fix the Big Apple's poorly run public schools. But Crew could not control Edward Stancik, the special commissioner of investigations, who exposed several scandals.

One incident presaged problems the chancellor would have a decade later at Miami Northwestern Senior High: In September 1997 Stancik released a report criticizing officials at August Martin High School, where a female student had been allegedly raped by four members of the varsity football team in an empty classroom. "Had swift action been taken, it is possible that the rape could have been prevented, or, at the very least, interrupted," Stancik wrote. "Even more disturbing, after the rape, when Student A disclosed her suffering to two staff members, they all but ignored her, forcing the girl to shoulder the burden of the sexual assault by herself and encounter her attackers on a daily basis."

Stancik also discovered that August Martin staff members withheld information from investigators and made inaccurate statements to the press. Although he reassigned the assistant principals after the scandal, Crew refused to remove Principal Richard Ross despite Stancik's recommendation and parents' outrage. According to news articles, Crew personally investigated the incident and found that "sufficient additional information" convinced him firing Ross was inappropriate.

Two years later Crew ran into more trouble with Stancik, who uncovered a scandal that also parallels a Miami problem. Stancik exposed that Crew's office of special investigations was aware many teachers were changing students' grades on flunked tests, but did nothing. One of Crew's top New York lieutenants, then-Special Investigations Director Marlene Malamy, played a major role in the misdoing.

(Last year Miami-Dade School Police investigated allegations that Charles Drew Middle School Principal Gwen Coverson had changed 150 D and F grades without consulting the responsible teachers. The officers released a 37-page report claiming the allegations could not be substantiated because whistleblowers failed to cooperate with investigators. But the educators who fingered Coverson contend detectives never contacted them. In a September 30, 2006 Miami Herald article, former Charles Drew teacher Robert Morris said investigators "never returned my calls or asked me to come in for an interview.")

In December 1999 the New York City Board of Education bought out the final six months of Crew's contract after he and Mayor Giuliani bickered over the use of student vouchers. Crew was against them, while Giuliani supported them. The chancellor returned to the Pacific Northwest, where he launched an educational leadership institute at the University of Washington. Sixteen months later, he left to work for a San Francisco area foundation before moving to Miami.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.