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.