Sunday, August 24, 2003

Cincinnati Public Schools

So many questions

The biggest education questions in the region this week are for Cincinnati Public Schools: What will happen inside $1 billion worth of new schools being builtin the city? And, what happens to reforms promised to the public before Cincinnatians approved the tax hike to build?

The questions come on the heels of last week's annual Ohio Report Card, which gave Cincinnati Public Schools its lowest academic rating. CPS passed four of 22 indicators which include test scores, graduation rates and attendance. This comes after two years of CPS inching up in scores and renewed hope among the public that the district was turning the corner on achievement. It comes as superintendent Alton Frailey finishes his first year.

So what now?

When Frailey was hired from Texas, his top job was to help pass the bond levy to rebuild city schools and keep the reforms moving. He was to evaluate what's working or not and plot the next course for the 41,000-student district.

Last week, Frailey said he wants to institute a common curriculum among all CPS schools, based on what the state standards and tests say every child should learn. The district will perform quarterly testing so teachers know what students must learn before they take state tests.

Sounds sensible, but does it derail the new decentralized autonomy schools have over their programs and budgets? What about other promised changes such as restructured high schools and pay-for-performance for teachers? Does it mean failing schools no longer will be redesigned or closed?

We do realize the incredible timing and impact the new federal No Child Left Behind law is starting to have on all public schools. For the first time ever, it demands publicly reported test results and progress for all children in reading and math, not just the best and brightest. Schools and the public are only beginning to get a grip on how revolutionary the changes may be.

CPS, the region's largest district, is a fractured system with many moving parts, good and bad. The leadership challenge is to blend the best reforms with the new demands.

The report card was a sobering, discouraging wallop for the city. The superintendent and board members must explain - in specific, no-nonsense terms - what happens next and why. It's critical in repairing the shaken public trust.

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