The incredible shrinking cities

The 2010 census numbers came out this month and ???shrinkage??? is the defining term for Ohio's cities. Cleveland shrunk by 17 percent over the last decade and fell to 396,815 residents, a 100-year low. Cincinnati lost 10 percent of its population and is down to 297,000 residents, also a 100-year low. Toledo contracted by nine percent and now has a population of 287,208. The only large city in the state to grow was Columbus and it now has a population of 787,000.

Fordham's hometown of Dayton lost 15 percent of its population to reach a 90-year low. Since 1970 the city of Dayton has lost almost half of its citizens. Those left behind are increasingly poor. Fully a third of the city's residents had incomes below the poverty level in 2008, more than double the Ohio average. More than 80 percent of the city's school children are deemed economically disadvantaged.??

As Dayton continues to contract and get poorer its public schools struggle to educate the children left behind. The school district was rated Academic Watch by the state in 2009-10 and it met only one of the state's 26 academic indicators. No student in Dayton attended a public school (district or charter) that was rated Excellent or Excellent with Distinction, while in 2008-9 five percent of the city's children attended a top-rated school. In 2009-10, just 36 percent of students attended a school rated B or C (Effective or Continuous Improvement), while 65 percent of students in Dayton attended a school rated D or F.

I've been working in Dayton for the last decade and the numbers ??? both in terms of the overall decline of the city and the persistently weak academic achievement ??? are truly disheartening because I know and work with many dedicated educators who have been trying to turn things around. These educators include district administrators and teachers as well as those working in the charter sector. There have no doubt been some victories along the way ??? Dayton has seen the emergence of several decent high schools ??? but overall the fight all too often feels like a rearguard action to minimize casualties. In fact, I have doubts that the current reform tools being employed in places like Dayton ??? choice, standards, more money, etc. ??? are enough to get us over the hill. Dayton needs some fresh thinking and new partnerships or we are likely to continue withering away.??

- Terry Ryan

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