Ohio's largest cities are rapidly shrinking. According to recent U.S. Census figures, Cincinnati was the biggest loser, hemorrhaging 6.8 percent of its total population--over 22,000 residents--from 2000 to 2005, a larger percentage than any other city in the nation.

To repopulate urban neighborhoods and boost enrollment in local schools, a coalition of Cincinnati-area leaders are launching "Strive," a growth plan based on the "Kalamazoo Promise"(see here) that would guarantee college scholarships to regional universities for students completing their education in Cincinnati or nearby Covington and Newport, Kentucky. Kalamazoo's program, funded by anonymous donors, is credited for raising home values and generating inquiries about the city from all over the country.

Area education and civic leaders are sanguine about the plan's potential benefits. CPS Superintendent Rosa Blackwell said, "It's all about giving students and their families great hope." Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory was even more enthusiastic, insisting the program could usher in a "new way of life" in the city.

But there's a problem. Strive doesn't detail the necessary steps districts and schools must take to raise the level of classroom instruction and adequately prepare students for college. CPS currently rates in Continuous Improvement on the state's report card and graduates just 77 percent of its students.

That figure does not account for the number of students actually prepared for college. ACT recently found that just 24 percent of Ohio's tested high school graduates from the class of 2006 were adequately prepared for college-level coursework in English, math, science, and social sciences. Just 57 percent of said graduates pursued a core curriculum (one comprised of four years of English and three years of math, science and social studies) in high school-and that number is falling every year. The average composite ACT score of African Americans (who make up 70 percent of CPS's student population) that pursued a core curriculum in Ohio is 18 (on a 36 point scale), well below many college admissions requirements and hardly an augur of future academic success.

The truth is that hope alone will not help students become successful academically. Better instruction and greater course rigor (as put forth in Governor Taft's Ohio Core plan, for instance) will. Strive and similar programs (Dayton is considering its own "Dayton Promise) represent a wonderful opportunity for Ohioans, but students unprepared to take advantage of it will find this promise a cruel one.

"Strive Takes Plans Public," by Scott Wartman, The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 17, 2006.

"Scholarship Fund to Pay Way," by Howard Wilkinson and Jennifer Mrozowski, The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 16, 2006.

"Dayton Schools Discuss Ways to Keep Students in the City," by Scott Elliot, The Dayton Daily News, July 28, 2006.

Check out ACT's recent Ohio report here.

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