Education + Think

We All Have a Stake in Saving Our Kids  —  and Our Community

Among every 100 ninth-graders in Cleveland, 63 attain a high school diploma. Only 33 go to college—and just nine graduate within six years. We cannot silently stand by and sanction this squandering of lives and talent. Improving K-12 schooling is the primary thrust of the Cleveland Foundation's education initiative. But we've also partnered to make post-secondary education more accessible to low-income first-generation students. The Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland, which the Cleveland Foundation helped draft, was unveiled in October 2011. Housed at College Now Greater Cleveland, the compact has attracted signers throughout the community, including Cleveland and the Cleveland schools, Cuyahoga County, civic groups and foundations, and 15 regional colleges and universities. All have pledged to work to raise our community's abysmal college completion rate.

Assured of more autonomy, new schools pioneer new approaches

In the last five years, the Cleveland Foundation has invested more than $10 million to improve the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and associated charter schools. We're bringing vast resources to bear because our region's decline is closely linked with the failure to educate our children.

In 2006, we teamed with the school district, the Cleveland Teachers Union, the George Gund Foundation, and other community partners to begin creating a high-performing school system within the old. The schools in this "portfolio" operate with a high degree of

autonomy, testing promising new approaches in exchange for accountability. By 2011, the portfolio comprised 13 district schools and seven charter schools partnering with the district.

Focused on innovation and excellence, these schools as a cohort outperform their peers on almost every measure. Largely as a result of this portfolio approach, the number of Cleveland district and charter schools rated "excellent" or "effective" increased from 14 in 2006 to 37 in 2011.

A smart strategy can secure a better future

Acute challenges remain. The majority of the district's approximately 43,000 students do not receive a quality education. Some 55 percent of Cleveland's district and charter schools were in academic watch or academic emergency last year. In one-third of Cleveland neighborhoods, children have access only to failing schools.

We've been tackling this issue in Columbus as well as Cleveland. With our partners, we've pushed for changes in state law to improve teacher quality, foster innovation, and strengthen ties between school districts and high-performing charter schools.

We inched toward these goals in 2011. Included in the biennial state operating budget were the framework for a new teacher evaluation system, some limits on seniority as the sole factor in layoffs, an "innovation school" and "innovation zone" designation to encourage new educational models, and authorization for Teach for America to enter Ohio. Funded in part with a $750,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation, this well-regarded program is placing up to 100 teachers annually in schools in and around Cleveland, starting with the 2012 school year.

In February 2012, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson revealed a sweeping plan to take the portfolio school concept to scale, tripling the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing schools and eliminating failing schools within six years. The Cleveland Foundation had significant input in shaping this plan, and we and our partners contributed financially to its development.

After negotiation and compromise, the reform plan gained the support of the Cleveland Teachers Union and, ultimately, the approval of the Ohio Legislature and the signature of Gov. John Kasich. Again, the Cleveland Foundation played a prominent role in advocating for passage of the enabling legislation.

Among key provisions, the plan mandates a performance-based evaluation and compensation system for teachers and principals; eliminates seniority as the primary criterion in layoffs; creates a panel to review charter school sponsors; and permits the district to share local tax revenues with partnering charter schools, to lengthen the school day and year, and to intervene quickly in failing schools. We view this bold plan as a watershed in the continuing struggle to educate all of Cleveland's children.