Cleveland Schools Levy: Investing in Transformative Change
As the mother of two girls in Cleveland public schools, I’ve attended several presentations by Mayor Frank Jackson and CEO Eric Gordon about what their plan will mean for Cleveland’s children. Based on my notes from several months of these briefings, here’s my annotated list of what the mayor and Mr. Gordon, teachers, the business community, parents and community partners plan to do with our hard-earned money if we vote to support the levy.
1. Attract, retain and develop excellent teachers. The District has attracted energetic, new teachers just out of college. Retaining them has been difficult, since seniority is the primary criteria for layoffs. The Cleveland Plan allows Cleveland school leaders to factor performance and time in together when making decisions about teachers.
2. Replace failing schools with new, high quality schools. Eric Gordon maintains this does not mean closing school buildings. They’ve learned from the past that closing buildings drives people away from the District. This part of the plan allows for ineffective programs to be dissolved and for new leadership and staff to be brought in to implement a proven program to serve that community. Taxpayers will have the authority, in the form of an independent board, to hold everyone accountable—charter and public-- and the new legislation allows a shorter timeframe to close ineffective school programs.
3. Increase graduation rates in every neighborhood. This has been happening steadily district-wide over the past few years, and it’s up to 63% from 39% in 1996. Gordon has acknowledged the progress by saying, “That’s better, but not good enough.”
4. Make sure all graduates are ready for college, careers and work, or as Gordon calls it, “citizenship.” Increasing the graduation rate is not enough, are our graduates ready for the what comes next? Do we have enough vocational programs, not just in the trades but so-called stackable certificates in things like business administration, and technology fields? This part of the plan looks at incorporating more real-world experiences into the school day. On the college readiness side, it looks at how technology can allow us to deliver Advanced Placement curriculum to more of the students who want to earn college credit in high school.
5. Update textbooks, computers and technologies. Some students are using American history books that show George Bush as the president. No, not W, his father. A pilot project at two schools gave students all their textbooks pre-loaded onto a Nook interactive tablet. Critics were sure the kids would lose them. But after a year, only two were lost. One was stolen from a student on her way home from school (and permanently deactivated using a remote kill switch) and the other... was lost by a grown-up! Contrast this with the truckload of books CMSD staff retrieve from the RTA headquarters each month, materials the students have left on the buses and trains.
6. Maintain disciplined classrooms where students learn every day.. And invest in separate, supportive environments that meet the needs of the children who can’t manage themselves in the traditional classroom.
7. Provide real world education in local businesses. Partnerships are key, and another element of the Cleveland Plan allows flexibility on start and end times for schools. Why rouse teenagers out of bed at 5:30 am, when sleeping in til 7 can get them awake and refreshed to half days in the classrooms and half-days interning at local businesses that follow a 9-5 schedule?
8. Make the school year longer for students who need it most. The new legislation allows building leaders flexibility to set calendars that meet the needs of the community they serve, and levy dollars will pay for that additional learning time.
9. Help fund outstanding, accountable charter schools. One mill of the proposed 15 mill levy, (so about 6.5%) will support effective charter schools. An independent board called the Transformation Alliance will report out to the community the effectiveness of all charters, and make recommendations to the State about which have earned the right to continue to serve Cleveland’s children.
10. Base teacher pay more on performance. Our educators and administrators are working together to develop performance measures now.
The District has already cut $114 million from its budget over the last two years, lost $55 million in State cuts and $84 million from Federal cuts—and still has seen incremental gains almost across the board. Imagine what we can do with an investment —half from business property owners, half from residents. The graduation rate is up, and we have more effective and excellent schools. But we can’t cut our way to excellence. A vote for the levy is a vote for transformative change built on a thoughtful, research-based plan of action.