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Entries in Rudy Crew (3)


Oregon Finds Itself in Dunce Chair

Oregon finds itself sitting on the unusual and embarrassing dunce chair for shortcomings in healthcare and education reforms.

At times, Oregon under Governor John Kitzhaber has seemed like the prize pupil of the Obama administration. But recent events have plopped Oregon on the dunce chair.

Oregon may be dead last in enrolling zero people online for health insurance under its health exchange, Cover Oregon. And now the U.S. Department of Education is threatening to withdraw the state's waiver from complying with the No Child Left Behind education requirements. 

Neither represents a policy divergence between Oregon's Democratic government and the Obama team. They reflect a bad poker hand.

Like the federal health care website, Oregon's electronic health insurance portal hasn't performed.  Oregon has pushed to enroll people using paper applications. And the state has added significant numbers of Oregonians to the Oregon Health Plan.

Kitzhaber said the state is too far downstream to change computer consultants, but promises a full accounting when the Cover Oregon website is up and running as intended. The governor has enlisted former Providence CEO Greg Van Pelt and Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg to lend their management and medical expertise to unsnarling the IT logjam.

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Change from Within

Recent appointments of Nancy Golden as Chief Education Officer and Ben Cannon as Executive Director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission are a reminder of a unique Oregon truism — change comes from within.

Governor Kitzhaber took office in 2011 with a distinct interest in reforming major sectors of Oregon government. He pushed for significant reforms in health care, early learning and education. Kitzhaber has seen success in all of those within the walls of the Capitol, but true change happens at the agency level and among stakeholders who implement those changes every day.

The healthcare industry came to the table to craft a transformation plan that didn’t just pass the legislature, but became part of the DNA of the key public and private leaders in the healthcare industry in Oregon. Kitzhaber’s early learning initiatives were crafted by Oregon practitioners who understood the pitfalls of the current system, including its lack of outcome-based accountability.  

Education, however, took a much different road. Trusted advisors and key stakeholders familiar with Oregon’s political landscape drew the outline of a newly aligned K-20 education system. But unlike with other major initiatives, Kitzhaber turned the reins of implementation over to a distinct outsider — so-called change agent Rudy Crew.

Despite his reformer reputation, Crew didn’t make a dent in the mountain of change he was supposed to effect during his time in Oregon. Granted, he spent a great deal of time traveling the country on other pursuits, but the bigger issue, for him or any other reformer, was a fundamental lack of ability to see and understand the Oregon political landscape.

The education community — not unlike healthcare or corrections or any other major sector — is widely varied. Agreement is hard to come by, even among similarly interested parties. Interest groups include elected officials, business leaders, on-the-ground practitioners and parents — all of whom claim to be experts because, at a minimum, each individual went to school.

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Rudy to the Rescue

Sounds like a children's book, but that is was Governor Kitzhaber is asking Dr. Rudy Crew to do as Oregon's new Chief Education Officer. The position was created in 2011 when the Governor asked lawmakers to form a new Oregon Education Investment Board, a far-reaching oversight board that will coordinate education from early childhood through college.

The Education Investment Board boasts an impressive list of Oregonians, but it is Crew — who previously ran New York, Sacramento, Tacoma and Miami school systems — who has the job of making it work.

The stakes are high. Only two out of three Oregon high schoolers graduate in four years. Business leaders believe our struggling school system is a competitive disadvantage when recruiting big employers to Oregon. The economic downturn has meant cuts to all levels of education. Tuition at public universities has increased to the level where student debt has become a real problem, especially when graduates can't find jobs. Our early learning programs have been fragmented and uncoordinated, with little success.

Kitzhaber ran in 2010 on the notion that all levels of education need to be coordinated. He made a good argument. Education sectors compete against each other for state dollars, without working together to achieve common goals or address serious gaps or weaknesses in the educational system. The legislature in 2011 and 2012 followed Kitzhaber's lead and passed major bills that reorganize education management in Oregon. Now it is up to Crew to produce results.

Here is an example of the tasks ahead of him. Oregon has multiple boards and agencies that oversee postsecondary education, including the State Board of the Higher Education, the new Higher Education Coordinating Commission, the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development and the Education Investment Board. Plus the University of Oregon and Portland State University want their own independent governing boards.

It is unclear how all these boards will work together, not to mention whether they will be needed. Changing their roles or eliminating them will require a herculean effort by Crew, based on experience. More important will be whether he can effect changes that address growing concerns about the cost of college education and its value, especially as many recent graduates struggle to find jobs related to their degrees.

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