March 17 2010

Rational Education Policy Working in Cleveland

Vicki E. Alger

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has a $53 million deficit, nearly three out of four of its schools are on academic emergency or "watch," and barely half (54 percent) of its high school students graduate according to a just-released analysis by the Reason Foundation's Lisa Snell. No wonder almost 40,000 middle-class students have fled the district; while more than 25,000 urban students are attending charter schools and using private-school scholarships. But there are solutions to fix the schools. Among Ms. Snell's Top 10 recommendations are to:

•  Make every failing school a charter school;

•  Base funding on students, not incomprehensible and inequitable funding formulas;

•  Give parents more education options;

•  Free Cleveland schools from stifling collective bargaining agreements; and

•  Keep the best teachers based on merit, not seniority.

Ms. Snell's not alone. Drew Carey shares some of his ideas in Episode 2 of Reason TV's "Fix the Schools" video-like this gem: "Maybe hiring teachers based on seniority isn't the best idea," he quips, "because just hangin' around doesn't make you good." Neither does more money. In spite of receiving $14,000 per student, Cleveland schools aren't making the grade. This is devastating news for Cleveland, or any city, in the throes of revitalization efforts.

Oakland, California for example, is turning its schooling performance around through successful charter schools that rely on autonomy and accountability. Children who would likely be another dropout statistic elsewhere are on their way to college, thanks to charter schools like Think College Now (TCN). "These children can be the first generation of college students," says Jean Higgins, proud grandmother of a TCN student. This, says Ms. Higgins, gives the community hope.

Back in Cleveland, Citizens' Academy charter school not only closed Ohio's 30 percentage-point achievement gap between African-American students and white students, the charter school annihilated the gap altogether-beating the state's non-minority performance average by 7 percentage points. Even better, charter schools do more with less, since they have no taxing authority-something to consider the next time a bond measure or local tax increase for schooling appears on the ballot. In Ohio's case, charter schools like Citizens' Academy receive about $5,000 less than traditional, district-run public schools. 

Overall, "Schools of choice are the way to go," says Gwen Minter, former Cleveland Municipal School District board Member. "That's the way it is once you get to college." So why wait?

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