Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Blue Ribbon

The public education system has been hollowed out, after the 1960s like other American cities, Cleveland suffered from ‘white flight’ where white middle class Americans left for the suburbs, there was a further exodus during the 1970s when the ‘smoke stack’ industries closed. During the 1990s Charter Schools and vouchers in the state of Ohio have removed more pupils, in 2000 there were 76,000 pupils in the public education system this has fallen to 56,000 and is predicted to decline to 44,000 by 2014. A temporary stop on Charter Schools in Ohio was announced after poor results at the schools managed by
White Hat Management.

In many cities School Board Superintendents have been renamed ‘Chief Executive Officers’ and elected boards have been replaced by appointees of the Mayor.

There is also the devastating impact of the
‘No Child Left Behind Act’, which was shamefully support by Edward Kennedy. It paved the way for-
· Performance Pay for teachers
· Military recruitment
· Prayers in school
· Hiring private tutors
· Bussing children to other schools
· High stakes testing that can lead to school closures

In Cleveland thousands of teachers have been laid off due to falling pupil numbers and budget cuts. Most of them were social studies teachers.

We visited a K-8 (Kindergarten to Grade 8) School in a poor area of the city, the students were overwhelmingly Afro-American or Latino, 90% qualified for free or reduced price dinners. The testing neurosis was evident at the start, under NCLB 95% of the children must take the test, anything below that and the absentees are automatically classed as failing. So in the test week it’s, ‘phone round and round ‘em up’.

The curriculum is based on the core subjects – 100 minutes of reading, an hour of maths and then more literacy in the afternoon. I saw some 6 and 7 year olds in a grim classroom going through boring exercises from state wide text books, they looked bored. The school had been in Academic Emergency for five years and under NCLB will face reconstitution (closing down and reopening with new staff), conversion to a charter school, coming up with a new plan or takeover by Ohio State.

Ohio grades schools according to test results, no excuses for poverty or English as a second language.

Excellent 97 – 100%
Effective 76 - 96%
Improvement 50 - 75%
Academic Watch 33 – 49%
Emergency 0 – 32%

Schools are expected to increase results by 10% every year. Tests are held every year from Grade 3 to 12, even the younger children don’t escape in Ohio because they sit the Stanford Test for Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2. It’s not only tests that score, attendance is counted too.

Later on we visited an award winning ‘Blue Ribbon’ school – their version of Beacon Schools. I was fairly sceptical, usually these schools are in expensive, twee, commuter villages or exclusive schools that select pupils by testing – the great unwashed are always notable by their absence. This school was different, 60-60% of the pupils were poor, the Principal bought school uniforms for them and commented how many of them couldn’t afford decent shoes or socks. However, the rest of the pupils were from middle class homes and unusually for America there was a 50-50 split, black and white. They also took in pupils with mild and severe disabilities.

The school had high test scores but not at the expense of a broad curriculum there was some excellent topic work on display and lively children fully engaged in learning.

It had all the ingredients for a great school

· A dynamic Principal
· Mix of abilities in classes that raised everyone
· A good team of teachers that worked together
· Children chosen from the immediate neighbourhood
· Parent and community involvement

However, the community around the school is changing and test results in Grade 3 had fallen dramatically. The school was a model of what could be achieved, I hope they survive.


I found your series of articles on US education interesting and scary at the same time.

as a brit living in the US about 40 miles from Chicago it is interesting to see the differences in how education works here , one of the many things is how great a priority sport has and how a high proportion of the money for scholarships for college is sports related.

The education system here emphasises even greater differences between inner city education and the rest maybe as a reflection of society in general

I have had kids go through both systems and i think it depends on the same basic things in both countries

Commitment of teachers
Parental influence
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