Good work in Cincinnati but reform has only just begun

The spotlight has been shining brightly on the Cincinnati Public Schools' (CPS) reform efforts, including a segment January 15 on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight that highlighted the changes at Withrow University High School. CPS has embarked on real reform in its high schools and has school leaders and educators--including Withrow principal Sharon Johnson and her team--who are producing big results. The district's improving graduation rate is an example. At the same time, it must be said that the district's work is far from over:

  • The district didn't meet the state level for proficiency on a single one of the state's 18 achievement tests last year.
  • Achievement gaps in the early and middle grades are large and persistent.
  • Leadership limbo (as it seeks its fourth superintendent in 10 years) and a looming financial crisis (see here) have some experts calling the front office "dysfunctional" (see here).

With these handicaps, it is impressive that the district has posted such tangible achievements in its high schools, and these improvements are reflective of much hard work by administrators, principals, teachers, and students. It is also reflective of serious philanthropic investment by KnowledgeWorks, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others who are dedicated to high-school reform in the Queen City.

However, the Cincinnati Public Schools cannot afford to rest and must now figure out how to expand its reforms and improvements throughout the entire K-12 system. (The district's recent move to replace the entire staff at long-failing Taft Elementary shows that CPS understands it will take more than incremental adjustments to bring about real success [see here].) The district must address large and persistent achievement gaps among younger students, while also managing tough fiscal and operational challenges. The task is great, but the district has early successes it can build on for the betterment of all students.

See also:

"How Cincinnati Turned Its Schools Around," by Joe Nathan, in January 9, 2007, Education Week.

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