A plan to revamp some of the key features of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District was introduced this month with bipartisan sponsorship in both the Ohio House and Senate.
The plan seeks to move the district, as our friends at 50CAN would say, from islands of excellence to systems of excellence, adopting elements of the district’s shining stars and creating a system that will enable excellence at all levels.
Key elements of the plan include the types of common sense changes that reform advocates have been pointing to for years: changes in union contracts, limits on teacher tenure, “hazard pay” for teachers who work in difficult schools, more flexibility in district finances, performance-based pay for teachers, and the potential of year-round schooling to avoid the summer “brain drain.” See more here and here.
This approach mirrors the Portfolio District approach already in use in Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston. These district offices see their role as ensuring each child has a quality education, NOT necessarily needing those quality educational opportunities to be district schools. These districts manage a portfolio of schools including partnerships with charter and private schools.
Cleveland’s plan comes with an extra bonus for charter schools. If the Cleveland Transformation Plan passed, Cleveland could become the first district in the whole country to share local levy dollars with the high-quality charter schools that they choose to partner with.
There are a couple of elements that we think are important to address, maybe down the road, to make the school choice process in Cleveland as friendly and accessible as possible for parents:
- Common application: Many portfolio districts and universities across the country use common application systems that allow families to apply to multiple schools with a single application. Including lottery, charter, and district options in one application makes the process easy for families.
- Transportation: We can’t promise families a castle without providing the carriage. Transportation is expensive but it’s key in enabling true choice.
We are encouraged by the bipartisan support, the use of national best practice, and the way that the plan embraces all Cleveland kids as “our kids,” regardless of the type of public school they attend.
National groups are watching the Cleveland process closely. Mayor Jackson, Superintendent Gordon, and the key legislators will have a lot to be proud of (and a lot of work ahead of them) if their plan is adopted. We hope these changes will give Cleveland leaders the tools they need to turn their islands of excellence into a system of excellence.