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East Cleveland schools go under state control despite objections: Here’s what will happen

September 14, 2018

East Cleveland schools go under state control despite objections: Here’s what will happen

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio - East Cleveland’s school board and superintendent and are about to lose control over the school district.

Thanks to a 2015 state law and the district’s overall F on new state report cards, a new group called an “academic distress commission” will soon be taking over. That commission will name a new schools CEO who will then step in, create a school improvement plan and carry it out.

East Cleveland will be the third district in Ohio to face this form of state takeover, following Youngstown and Lorain, both of whom have drawn community opposition and seen mixed results so far.

From the state’s perspective - particularly of Gov. John Kasich and his staff - schools that have repeatedly poor results need intervention and outside help so that students can be better educated.

“We all share the same interest first and foremost,” said State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria. “And that’s helping the students of that community get the best education they possibly can.”

While he knows that it may not be popular, DeMaria hopes school, city and community leaders will all try to cooperate on a plan, something that hasn’t fully happened in Lorain and happened even less in Youngstown.

“Collaboration has to emerge,” DeMaria said. “Running a school district is not a one-person show. It takes lots of people working together.”

East Cleveland Superintendent Myna Loy Corley objects to intervention by the state, saying the district has made improvements, that the district has been hurt by changes to state tests and that officials statewide are losing confidence in how distress commissions work.

The state legislature has ordered a study of them, but it is not due until next year, so state plans may have to change here right after they start.

In addition, though DeMaria and the state school board just created a state education plan that relies less on state test scores to judge districts, the state still relies on tests to determine report card grades and mandate state intervention.

Corlery noted that one of the biggest complaints about report cards is that tests  repeatedly favor affluent districts over poor ones. Multiple studies, some by The Plain Dealer, show that test scores in Ohio are consistently higher in schools with higher income.

For a district like East Cleveland, whose income and socioeconomic challenges rank at or near Ohio’s worst, depending on the study, that’s a big issue.

“If the tests are flawed, the Academic Distress Commission takeover is flawed,” Corley said in a press release. “If the current system is not fair and not sufficiently meaningful, how can it result in loss of local control?”

She said many other urban districts also received F grades on new report cards.

“This should be extremely concerning to any person seeing these results,” she said.

State Rep. Kent Smith, a Euclid Democrat who tried to pass legislation to halt state intervention earlier this year, called the plan “ridiculous public policy” and a “Columbus knows best” approach that undermined Democracy and elected school boards.

“I don’t think East Cleveland deserves a state takeover if you look at the substantial challenges they face and the substantial progress that they have made,” Smith said.

The Warrensville Heights school district, along with the Trotwood-Madison schools near Dayton, were also in danger of falling into academic distress. But both improved scores enough to earn overall D grades and avoid intervention.

“The district’s strategic plan is working,” said Warrensville Heights Superintendent Donald Jolly, who took over in 2015. “While there is room for improvement, the scores reflect the hard work of the district’s scholars and dedicated staff.”

Here’s how the Academic Distress process works, under state law:

The new Commission will have five members appointed in 30 days, three appointed by the state superintendent, one by the city’s mayor and a teacher appointed by the school board.

The state superintendent appoints the chair of the commission.

The commission then has 60 days to appoint a CEO who will be paid by the state and have “complete operational, managerial, and instructional control of the district.”

The CEO will convene a community panel to advise him on a new educational plan for the district, which is due 90 days after he/she is appointed.

The CEO has broad powers to overrule parts of union contracts, create charter schools or other schools for parents to choose, and overhaul schools by replacing staff. Those powers increase as time passes without improved ratings on report cards.

Click here for the law spelling out all of the CEO’s powers.

Whether the law is working is unclear, based on test scores.

The chart below shows how the scores of East Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown have changed relative to state average scores over the last several years. Because state tests and grading systems have changed, scores themselves don’t show much. This chart instead looks at whether schools are improving relative to trhe rest of the state, regardless of test.

Note that the downward bars all show proportionally how far below state average each district scores. Longer bars indicate much lower scores and short ones show scores much closer to state average.

Cleveland is included because it would have been declared in academic distress in 2012 if it did not pass its own school improvement plan first. Warrensville Heights is included because it narrowly avoided state control with the new report cards.

Note that Lorain, which just went into Academic Distress last fall, increased its scores a significant amount this last school year. But with the commission, CEO and academic plan so new, it is hard to say  they made a difference.

Youngstown, though, has seen scores fall from its 2015 and 2016 levels.

East Cleveland’s results have been mixed over the last few years, while Warrensville has shown a steady climb upward, other than a terrible showing in 2015.

Be sure to use the scroll bar under the chart to see results on the far right.

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