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Cleveland students struggle, hope on horizon

July 3, 2014

By Lalita Smith

It would not be a stretch to say that Cleveland is growing and improving — neglected buildings and run-down neighborhoods are steadily growing into a beautiful, bright and bustling metropolis.

However, as much as things are improving in Cleveland, there is still one big problem.

Cleveland’s schools are struggling, which means that Cleveland’s students are suffering.

The statistics do not lie — Cleveland schools earned an F on nearly every section of the 2012-13 CMSD State Report Card. The report card factors in graduation rates, overall progress and gap closing.

The rate of students who graduated high school within four years did not even reach 60 percent — whereas Ohio’s average high school graduation rate is more than 80 percent.

Only 69 percent of 11th grade students passed the mathematics portion of the Ohio Graduation Test. Only 59 percent passed the science portion.

Both numbers are well below the 75 percent state minimum.

Black students continue to struggle the most throughout the district, scoring the least proficient of all other races in the areas of math, reading and graduation rates.

According to a report released by the City of Cleveland, for every 100 9th graders who enter high school, only seven will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, the problem of underperforming schools in an overall underachieving school district is not a new one for Cleveland.

Nicholas Jones, 55, attended John F. Kennedy High School nearly 40 years ago.

He recalls firsthand the struggles of trying to achieve in an underachieving environment.

“Even back then, the education you got wasn’t great. Most of the people I knew couldn’t make it in college. For a lot of us it was either get a job or join the Army,” Jones said.

Forty years later, many students of Cleveland public schools still are not exactly pleased with the quality of education they are receiving.

“I feel like a lot of teachers don’t really care if you graduate or go to college. Lucky for me I know college is for me so I’m doing what I can on my own to get there,” Michael Flynn, senior at a CMSD high school, said.

Providing students with a quality education requires the dedication and determination of competent, high quality, high performing teachers — a fact that a California judge recently made very clear.

Nearly two years ago, nine California students sued the state of California — arguing that teacher tenure laws unfairly protected inadequate teachers — thereby violating their constitutional right to equality of education.

The students argued that these laws, some of which allow teachers to earn tenure (permanent employment) in just 18 months, left them stuck with “grossly ineffective teachers,” — as well as the fact that black and minority students were “disproportionally” stuck with these teachers.

It was argued by experts, on behalf of the students, that dismissals of teachers are extremely rare, regardless of a teachers poor performance — and in the case of layoffs the “last in first out” rule requires that a recently hired teacher would be fired instead of a senior one, without merit to individual performance measures.

On June 10, L.A County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled that these laws were indeed unconstitutional, and that laws that protected incompetent and ineffective teachers “impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education.”

The ruling ended the long used “last in first out” practice and eradicated the tenure process in which teachers were either given tenure after 18 months, or were fired.

Rachel Holmes, a retired Cleveland public school teacher, applauds the decision made by the California judge — and hopes other states will soon follow suit.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, finally recognizing the fact that not all teachers are good teachers,” she said.

“Tenure shouldn’t be used as a shield to protect poor teachers.”
City officials aren’t turning their backs to the problems that city schools are facing either — instead they are aggressively addressing these problems head on.

Mayor Frank Jackson released in February 2012 “Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools,” a 15-page plan that addressed the short comings, failures and problems of Cleveland public schools.

It also proposed specific and direct initiatives, plans and solutions geared toward fixing these issues.

The plan also includes changes to the Cleveland teachers’ contract that will allow recently hired or junior teachers who receive high evaluations job security over senior or tenured teachers who receive lower evaluations.

The plan is centered on four strategies that include; growing the number of high-performing schools in Cleveland and closing and replacing failing schools and creating the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, an agency whose goal is to ensure accountability for all Cleveland public schools.

According to this plan, by 2018 the goal is to have nearly 40,000 students enrolled in “high performing district and charter schools,” a number nearly twice that of the current one of about 20,000.

Among others, the goals of the Cleveland Plan include increasing the quality of charter schools, providing the district with more flexibility and autonomy and introducing modern employment practices.

Although there are those who doubt the success of the plan — many people, including Holmes, are optimistic about the future of Cleveland schools.

“I sincerely hope things get better for our schools, because our children deserve the best schools, the best teachers and the best education possible.”