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EDITORIAL / In Handling of Edison School Vote, Levy Disappoints

So what now?

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wanted New York City school leaders to think outside

the box when it came to school reform. But instead of innovation, school

honchos yawned, looked around, latched onto five perennially troubled

institutions and asked the parents involved if they wanted a private outfit,

Edison Schools Inc., to come in and run the places.

The final answer came in this week-a loud and emphatic no. Never mind that

Edison wanted to make the schools into showcases and was promising a big

infusion of computers and other amenities. The parental rejection is a pity,

but it comes as no surprise. In fact, the skids were greased early on to defeat

this plan.

For starters, city schools Chancellor Harold Levy was always apathetic

about the idea. He could have included more schools than five on his makeover

list. He could have proposed more outside agencies than Edison to carry out the

reforms. He could have campaigned hard for parental approval.

He did none of these things. At a time when the system needs a dose of

iconoclasm, he is starting to come off as an organization man, as a guy who

wants to change thingsas long as he doesn't irk beneficiaries of the status quo.

Bear in mind: When he put the Edison issue up for a vote, Levy chose to use

the rules that govern charter-school conversions. Written to placate the

teachers union, these standards are notoriously tough. In effect, every parent

who fails to vote is counted as a "no."

OK, maybe Levy has the hardest job in New York. Not only must he breathe

new life into dead schools, he must recruit thousands of new teachers andstop a

drain of principals.

Still, we expect more of the man. Giuliani was right to call for vouchers

to relieve the families at failed schools. They would help the kids, and they

would keep Levy on his toes.

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