From the Columbus Dispatch, Sunday March 25th:
Ohio lawmakers should provide the legislative backing for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s dramatic reform proposal for his city’s deeply troubled schools.
The plan would give the Cleveland Metropolitan School District the best chance it has had in decades for real and rapid improvement. The district is mired in “academic watch” status, meeting only one of the 26 performance standards on the state-issued report card, and is facing financial insolvency. As a result, thousands of young people reach adulthood each year with blighted prospects.
Jackson’s plan aims to triple, in six years, the number of Cleveland students attending schools rated “excellent” or “effective,” and to close and replace failing schools more quickly. To do this, he seeks a “differentiated pay” system for teachers, based in part on a teacher’s effectiveness and the demand for his or her area of expertise. He also seeks to wipe the slate clean on union contracts, starting collective bargaining over without the decades of past practices that no longer are relevant or helpful to 21st -century education. The plan also would allow levy revenue to be used for charter schools, which would have to meet high standards of achievement.
Jackson was right to put the plan together without the union at the table, despite being criticized for it. He is the executive ultimately responsible for the school district. He knows that even when teachers unions are willing to embrace change, it is incremental, and incremental change means that thousands more Cleveland students will suffer for the inadequacies of their schools.
In the legislative process, teacher unions will have the opportunity to provide input. But union resistance to change should not be allowed to imprison the district in permanent failure.
Jackson, a Democrat, rightly bristles when critics compare his school-reform plan to last year’s Senate Bill 5. He points out that he campaigned against that bill, which would have curtailed the collective-bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees.
Although his plan includes some of the same ideas, such as removing seniority as the sole factor in deciding on teacher assignments and layoffs, it still would allow teachers to bargain on most issues.
Cleveland schools desperately need the kinds of changes Jackson is proposing, and the district also needs more cash: Administrators will have to make $65 million in cuts before next school year to avoid red ink, and the deficit will continue to grow if voters don’t approve a new operating levy in November.
Jackson wants to make voters a straightforward offer: Allow us a five-year levy to make these fundamental changes. If the levy reaches its expiration and the schools haven’t improved, you don’t have to renew it.
He can’t offer that bargain without the help of lawmakers. Cleveland’s future depends on their courage.