Cleveland challenging Indy to become the Midwest’s ed-reform capital
A version of the following post appeared in today's Indianapolis Star.
Last month I led a delegation of education-reform advocates from the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton to spend a day with leaders of The Mind Trust, an education reform nonprofit that is paving the way for transformative change in K-12 education in Indianapolis. For several years, Indianapolis has been leading the Midwest in education reform. It started when former Mayor Bart Peterson launched the city’s award-winning charter schools initiative. It accelerated with the launch of The Mind Trust that brought a concentration of the nation’s best education entrepreneurs to the city and made Indianapolis the envy of the region.
Most recently, Indianapolis is inspiring other Midwestern cities to propose big ideas for driving systemic change in K-12 education. The Mind Trust issued a report in December proposing bold reforms to the Indianapolis Public Schools district. That plan, “Creating Opportunity Schools: A Bold Plan to Transform Indianapolis Public Schools,” influenced a report Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson issued earlier this month offering prescriptions for how the city can improve its K-12 system. Jackson’s plan, “Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools,” cites and draws from The Mind Trust’s report. Both plans seek to:
- Give high-performing schools far more control over staffing, budgets, culture, curriculum, and services, in return for increased accountability for student performance;
- Drive central-office spending down so more can be invested at the school level;
- Force schools that don’t deliver results to close;
- Push new investments, such as early-childhood education, to help expand enrollment in excellent schools and improve student performance;
- Strategically recruit and place top teaching talent and leaders in schools that serve the neediest children; and
- Give the mayor more authority over city schools.
This is a bold agenda – no matter the city – but such boldness is necessary to improve schools that have failed to meet the educational needs of their children for generations. Student performance in both Indianapolis and Cleveland ranks among the most woeful in the nation.
But with both cities’ plans on the table, Indianapolis now has competition as the center of education reform in the Midwest. Cleveland has a serious advantage over Indianapolis because the mayor already has control of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. And Cleveland’s superintendent is firmly behind Mayor Jackson’s ambitious plan, ensuring alignment between the city’s two most powerful education leaders.
With Indianapolis’ Opportunity Schools plan and the Cleveland Plan, the pressure is now on these two communities to prove that all stakeholders can come together and embrace the bold steps necessary to ensure that all students get to attend life-changing public schools. Cities across the country need the inspiration and example these two communities can provide. I hope both Cleveland and Indianapolis show the nation that an urban school system can be transformed to create opportunities for all students.
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May 8, 2013