On school turnarounds, Cleveland ahead of the Capital City

As a Steelers fan I don't often go searching for reasons to praise Cleveland, but when it comes to education reforms they've got most other Ohio cities beat, especially Columbus.

Not to force comparisons, but we've said before that Columbus should take a page from Cleveland's charter school playbook as that district has worked hard to share facilities with charters, learn from their successes, and invite new high-performing models to open there. (Meanwhile, Columbus has denied facilities to charters ? including a Fordham-authorized one?because, to state it simply, they're better at providing a quality education to low-income kids.)

Columbus should also borrow a page from Cleveland's school turnaround playbook. Last week Terry lifted up one of Columbus's biggest turnaround failures- Champion Middle School ? which also caught the attention of the New York Times.? Terry rightly cited the need for better school leadership, innovative principal training models, and the role of leadership as the lynchpin for addressing chronic school dysfunction.

This weekend, two of the state's biggest newspapers featured school turnaround efforts in their respective cities and the differences are telling.

From the Columbus Dispatch, one learns that Columbus City Schools has taken a ?hunker-down approach? with federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) dollars.? The SIG program in the Capital City is stunning in its level of mediocrity, specifically:

  • The district chose ?transformation,? the least rigorous turnaround model, for its schools.
  • It didn't hire ?outsiders or turnaround experts? and is instead relying on internal transformation.
  • It left principals intact at some of its very worst performers (such as Weinland Park Elementary, where only 15 percent of fifth graders are proficient in math); and let principals at low-performing schools take on leadership of schools like Champion,? the prototype of failure.
  • The district is opting for professional development instead of replacing staff or drawing in new teachers with proven track records.

In contrast, Cleveland is at least attempting to pull off dramatic changes, though the success of its turnaround efforts can only be determined by whether the student achievement needle moves over the next few years.

  • At 10 of the turnaround schools, principals are being replaced.
  • The district hired outside experts to lead improvements to leadership, curriculum, and instruction.
  • District officials are seeking ?more thorough, data-based teacher evaluations.?

Cleveland has realized the need for replacing staff and principals- no matter how controversial- and has looked to outsiders for help. In other words ? whether the two cities' most chronically failing schools rehab themselves remains to be seen, but the likelihood of success at this point seems obvious. Cleveland has admitted it's got a problem and is at least seeking help, while Columbus seems to still be in denial. ?

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

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