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Reforms yield results, but progress must accelerate, Alliance says

CMSD NEWS BUREAU
6/23/2015
 
CMSD and charter schools have made headway in the first two full years under The Cleveland Plan but must accelerate gains in the next four years to meet goals set by the plan’s authors, the city’s watchdog group says.

In a report released Monday, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance says that fewer students are in failing schools and that The Cleveland Plan reforms are making a difference. The 2012 state law that made school reform possible in Cleveland also created the Alliance to hold the District and charter operators accountable for progress.

The report, the first of its kind from the Transformation Alliance, notes the increase in the District’s graduation rate to a record 64.3 percent and says elementary and middle-grade students are advancing at the same rate as children around the state. Charter quality is also rising, in keeping with goals of The Cleveland Plan.

Progress is lagging on The Plan’s goal to triple the number of students in high-performing District and charter schools by the end of the 2018-19 school year and efforts to reach this goal must gain more momentum, the report says.

“What the report shows is that we are in the midst of a massive cultural and institutional change in terms of how we’re delivering education to our students,” said Megan O’Bryan, the Alliance’s executive director. “Everything that’s been done is starting to show results, but we have to accelerate the pace of change in order to meet the goals of The Cleveland Plan.”

Mayor Frank G. Jackson sounded the same theme in a statement that accompanied the report’s release.

“The investment of time and energy we’ve seen over the past few years has created unprecedented opportunities to improve public education, and we are taking huge steps in the right direction,” said the mayor, who chairs the Transformation Alliance board of directors. “But much remains to be done if we are to truly transform education in our city.”

The proportion of students in high-performing schools actually slipped, from 8 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 6 percent in 2013-14, the most recent year for which data was available. But that is because the state revised its formula for grading schools.

The Alliance adopted an evaluation framework based on state indicators. O’Bryan said the group wanted to set high standards for quality.

At the same time, the number of students attending failing schools has dropped from 44 percent to 35 percent.

The report recounts initiatives that have taken shape under The Cleveland Plan, including more autonomy for schools in spending and program design, stronger recruiting and evaluation of principals and teachers, creation of an office to oversee a growing “portfolio” of school options, collaboration between the District and charters and formation of PRE4CLE, a public-private network that is expanding access to high-quality preschool.

It also makes recommendations that include targeting intervention tailored to the different categories of schools – high-performing, mid-performing, low-performing and failing. For example, help for mid-performing schools would move those from “good to great,” the report says.

The report notes that of 11 Cleveland schools rated as high performing in 2013-14 – nine District, two charter – seven were launched in the preceding 10 years. Of 25 mid-performing schools, 11 were opened in that period.

Since the 2013-14 school year, CMSD has subdivided John F. Kennedy and John Marshall high schools into new, smaller models. The Alliance calls the approach promising.

The group should study and present additional models for consideration, the report says.

It also calls for the Alliance to join CMSD, the Cleveland Teachers Union, charter operators, business leaders, foundations and the state to expand development of strong teachers and administrators, use of data and technology, District-charter partnerships and demand for quality schools.

The Transformation Alliance recently released a School Quality Guide, upgraded its website (www.ClevelandTA.org) and is set to begin a summer awareness campaign called “Choose your School! Change the Future!”

“We have to put the information out there. We also have to do outreach so families understand what the information means,” O’Bryan said. “Our role is to make sure families are making informed decisions.”

CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon said increased parent engagement in the last two years is one part of a massive organizational and cultural shift to help families make informed choices about the quality of their children’s education.

While the front end of the district’s 6-year Cleveland Plan timeline was focused on a complete redesign of the school system and rebuilding the public’s trust, the back end must focus on accelerating gains across the District, he said.

“There are multiple indicators that our reforms are working, and our polling shows 72 percent of voters believe we are moving in the right direction,” he said, citing a recent survey that showed 91percent believe CMSD’s work the last three years is making schools and neighborhoods stronger.

“The next four years must be high-impact years, with a focus on value added (a measurement of progress made in a year), the performance index (a composite of test scores) and our graduation rate—the only constant indicators we have to gauge the impact of our work,” said Gordon. “The data shows our kids are growing more rapidly than we’ve seen in the past, but we are better positioned than ever before to accelerate those gains.”



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