In the most recent school year, Cleveland’s schools — the second largest district in Ohio — ranked 608th out of 611 school districts on the state’s performance index. It’s no surprise then that, since 2000, with the introduction of vouchers and charters, enrollment has shrunk by 30,000 students as families have left the city’s underachieving schools for better educational opportunities elsewhere.
Allowing trends like that to continue doesn’t lead to revival and renewal. It’s not acceptable and must be changed. For Cleveland to be a global magnet for economic growth, families, children and communities must have the opportunity to fully participate in an improving quality of life. Essential to that are, of course, strong schools.
Achieving that is why a broad-based, bipartisan coalition came together to conceive and support the Cleveland Plan. The Cleveland School District, Cleveland Teachers Union, American Federation of Teachers, city of Cleveland, Cleveland and Gund foundations, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Breakthrough Charter Schools, national education leaders and a host of Cleveland’s civic and clergy leaders developed the ideas and momentum to make change possible.
Not surprisingly, many were initially skeptical. What helped bring people together behind the plan, however, is the simple fact that, without exception, the plan puts children first.
Do students at a particular school struggle with reading? The district’s best reading teachers could be deployed there to help them catch up. Could children benefit from the extra teaching attention of a longer school day or a longer school year? It could happen more easily now. Is an organization sponsoring charter schools that siphon taxpayers’ money without delivering good results? That sponsor will not operate in Cleveland.
The reforms may sound like common sense, and they are, but even changes that are desperately needed can be difficult to make. Fear of the unknown can paralyze even those in need. By carefully and patiently listening to and working with the community, teachers, parents and members of the General Assembly, however, eventually the value of the Cleveland Plan’s reforms secured the support needed to become law. It’s a case study in how different people with different views can come together to get something important done.
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