on February 25, 2012 by admin in Cleveland, Comments (0)

Cleveland mayor seeks to overturn status quo to remake city’s school district

Saturday February 25, 2012 9:15 AM

Those searching for the way to break through the calcified dysfunction of failing big-city public schools will be studying closely the ambitious reform plan proposed by city and school leaders in Cleveland.

If it goes forward, it will be a test of some fundamental reform ideas that have been suggested many times but not attempted on such a scale.

Its primary goal is to triple, in six years, the number of Cleveland students attending schools rated “excellent” or “efficient” and to close and replace failing schools faster. Currently, the district has only 37 high-performing schools, enrolling 11,400 students, out of a total 115 schools with an enrollment of more than 41,800.

In an important departure, the plan isn’t talking only about district schools. It aims to create for Cleveland a “portfolio” of good schools, including successful charter schools. While the district directly sponsors some charter schools, under the plan it would aim to influence charter offerings in general, by sharing property-tax revenue with the best ones and seeking the right to veto the establishment of new charter schools if the proposals for them don’t meet certain standards.

The plan is to enable improvement by junking contracts with teachers and other employees and starting from scratch, as well as radically reducing central-office bureaucracy to funnel more money and authority to individual schools, especially those performing well.

The district plans to ask voters to make it possible by approving an operating levy, something voters haven’t done since 1996. The levy, along with budget cuts, would eliminate a looming $65 million deficit and allow the start-up of innovative schools.

That the plan was put forward by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat, is significant, because it contains plenty that will displease school unions, traditionally an important source of political support for Democrats. It calls for lawmakers to grant the Cleveland district an exemption from the collective-bargaining practice under which each new contract uses the previous contract as a starting point, adding and subtracting provisions from there.

Over the decades, this has led to voluminous contracts that prescribe minute details of school operation — how often and how long staff meetings can be, when the school day starts and ends — to say nothing of centralized rules for hiring and assigning of teachers. This ties the hands of any principal with a good idea. Making the simplest change can require months of negotiation.

Other than magically erasing the poverty and social problems that make education so difficult in urban districts, no other change could do more to break the cycle of failure than wiping out Byzantine labor contracts and starting with a fresh sheet of paper.

A fresh start on contracts also would allow from-scratch negotiations on issues such as merit pay and the elimination of seniority as the trump card in layoffs and teacher assignment.

The far-reaching proposal was born of desperation: The Cleveland district has seen an enrollment drop of 30,000 students in the past decade as families switch to charter schools or flee the city; in the 2010-11 school year, more than half of its schools ranked in the “academic emergency” or “ academic watch” categories on state report cards. In a third of Cleveland neighborhoods, every school is failing.

Hope for the future rests on the willingness of legislators, unions and parents to break with the past.

Article source: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/editorials/2012/02/25/dramatic-proposal.html

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