Wednesday, August 15, 2012

District and charter leaders propel collaboration through “The Cleveland Plan”

Working closely with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) CEO, the school board, and the philanthropic and business community, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has placed the improvement of educational options of the city’s 50,000 public school students high on his list of second-term priorities. His efforts include helping craft state legislation that will transform Ohio’s only mayoral controlled school district. The “Cleveland Plan” legislation, signed into law by Ohio’s governor on July 2, 2012, enhances the district’s power to take swift and stronger corrective action with a failing school, streamlines the removal of a teacher, dramatically reworks teacher assignment and tenure, and allows for performance to partly determine pay as well as which teachers are laid off during a “reduction in force.”

The language in the bill also recognizes that high-quality charter schools are an important part of the educational system and invites them to share local levy revenue. It calls for the creation of a sitting committee of education and community leaders called the “Transformation Alliance.” Among the group’s many tasks will be the vetting of charter school authorizers. Ohio’s laws around charter school authorization are considered to be among the most lax in the country and the charge of the Transformation Alliance is to ensure that those authorizing charter schools in Cleveland follow highly regarded guidelines established by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Charter schools and CMOs in Cleveland did not universally support the legislation. The high-quality CMO Breakthrough Schools came out in favor of the legislation, but other charter operators in and around Cleveland did not. Some schools rejected the bill, claiming that tighter rules around authorization might restrict their freedom, and the promise of a share in levy funding was not enough to sway them.

Mayor Jackson, a democrat, successfully gained support for the Cleveland Plan from the Cleveland Teacher’s Union, from both sides of the state legislature and from the Republican governor. The bill passed in the Ohio House by a margin of 77-14 and 27-4 in the Senate. Mayor Jackson is quick to point out that he relied heavily on the expertise of Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon for much of the content in the Cleveland Plan. Gordon had come up through the ranks of the district, shared Jackson’s sense of urgency, and understood first hand how existing state laws were impeding progress. During many sessions lasting well in to the night, the small group of education and civic leaders modeled the bill on the Portfolio district strategy, which they determined was the right route for the district and for the city of Cleveland. The next hurdle for the plan is the passage of a $15 million local education levy in November that will fund the bill’s reforms. The city has not passed such a levy in sixteen years.

Highlights of the bill include:

  • For charter schools:
    • Establishes the “Transformation Alliance” which will vet charter school applications and provide the Ohio Department of Education with an annual report of all district and charter schools in Cleveland.
    • Enables Cleveland Metropolitan School District to share one percent of the proceeds of a local education levy with high-performing charter schools that have a relationship with the district.
  • For school district:
    • Moves the authority to determine district schools’ calendars and school day from collective bargaining to the CEO.
    • Allows CEO to set benchmark performance goals for schools and to terminate principals for failing to meet them.
  • For principals:
    • Affords principals higher level of authority to select, hire and terminate teachers. Under the new legislation, teachers rated “ineffective” for two successive years can be terminated.
  • For teachers:
    • Creates a teacher evaluation system based in part on performance.
    • Eliminates seniority as sole or primary factor in personnel decisions.

Kids Ohio, a non-partisan organization’s focused on improving K-12 education in the state, has compiled an independent summary of the bill that can be found here.

For more information about the Cleveland Plan, see the following publications: Cleveland Plan Summary; Fordham's Ending Ohio's Charter District Feud, and Strange Political Bedfellows.