A version of the
following post appeared in
Indianapolis Star.

Last month I led a delegation of education-reform advocates
from the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton to spend a
day with leaders of The Mind Trust, an education reform nonprofit that is
paving the way for transformative change in K-12 education in Indianapolis. For
several years, Indianapolis has been leading the Midwest in education reform.
It started when former Mayor Bart Peterson launched the city’s award-winning
charter schools initiative.  It
accelerated with the launch of The Mind Trust that brought a concentration of
the nation’s best education entrepreneurs to the city and made Indianapolis the
envy of the region.

Most recently, Indianapolis is inspiring other Midwestern
cities to propose big ideas for driving systemic change in K-12 education. The
Mind Trust issued a report in December proposing bold reforms to the Indianapolis
Public Schools district. That plan, “Creating Opportunity Schools: A Bold Plan
to Transform Indianapolis Public Schools,” influenced a report Cleveland Mayor
Frank Jackson issued earlier this month offering prescriptions for how the city
can improve its K-12 system. Jackson’s plan, “Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming
Schools,” cites and draws from The Mind Trust’s report. Both plans seek to:

  • Give high-performing schools far more control
    over staffing, budgets, culture, curriculum, and services, in return for
    increased accountability for student performance;
  • Drive central-office spending down so more can
    be invested at the school level;
  • Force schools that don’t deliver results to
  • Push new investments, such as early-childhood
    education, to help expand enrollment in excellent schools and improve student
  • Strategically recruit and place top teaching
    talent and leaders in schools that serve the neediest children; and
  • Give the mayor more authority over city schools.

This is a bold agenda – no matter the city – but such
boldness is necessary to improve schools that have failed to meet the
educational needs of their children for generations. Student performance in
both Indianapolis and Cleveland ranks among the most woeful in the nation.

But with both cities’ plans on the table, Indianapolis now
has competition as the center of education reform in the Midwest. Cleveland has
a serious advantage over Indianapolis because the mayor already has control of
the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. 
And Cleveland’s superintendent is firmly behind Mayor Jackson’s
ambitious plan, ensuring alignment between the city’s two most powerful education

With Indianapolis’ Opportunity Schools plan and the
Cleveland Plan, the pressure is now on these two communities to prove that all
stakeholders can come together and embrace the bold steps necessary to ensure
that all students get to attend life-changing public schools. Cities across the
country need the inspiration and example these two communities can provide. I
hope both Cleveland and Indianapolis show the nation that an urban school
system can be transformed to create opportunities for all students.

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