by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, July 2015) On May 30th, the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) and Common Good Ohio hosted another Breakfast with CTU President David Quolke. The event held at the Breen Center at St. Ignatius High School featured a discussion between members of the teachers union, members of Common Good Ohio, and members of the Cleveland Education Committee on the critical importance of success in turning around the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s 23 Investment Schools. (In the area served by the Plain Press, the Investment Schools are: Lincoln West High School, Walton School, Luis Muñoz Marin School, and Almira School.)
Attempting to put things in context, Quolke said that in November of 2016, Cleveland voters will be asked to renew the three year tax levy for the Cleveland Plan for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Quolke said the success of the Cleveland Plan hinges on what happens to the investment schools.
Quolke noted that the Cleveland Teachers Union was partnering with the parent and community group Common Good Ohio on a campaign, which has a goal of “Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education.” He noted some of the obstacles created for public education in Cleveland from the national No Child Left Behind Legislation that imposed massive amounts of testing on schools and offered punishment for low performing schools rather than resources to help with improvement.
Quolke spoke of the failure of the Ohio legislature to act in creating a fairer system of funding education, despite the four times the Ohio Supreme Court found the State’s “broken funding system dependent on Property Tax” to be unconstitutional.
Linking the national movement to test and punish to the school privatization movement, Quolke noted the advent of charter school legislation in 1997 in Ohio. Quolke noted the subsequent move to create Mayoral control of the Cleveland Schools in 1998. He then talked about Senate Bill 5 in 2011 that attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions and was soundly rejected by Ohio voters.
Quolke noted that in the aftermath of the defeat of SB 5 a group of Cleveland leaders were instrumental in meeting with the State legislature to come up with House Bill 525, an amendment of a previous state law that gave the Cleveland Mayor control of the schools. Quolke says when the bill was first introduce it was “horrible.” He said it was all about ways to fire teachers and eliminate their job security. He said the legislation was based on the New Orleans model that wiped out public education in that city.
Following the introduction of this bill, Quolke said the Cleveland Teachers Union entered into a dialogue which included Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon, Cleveland City Council members, representatives of the Cleveland and Gund Foundations, representatives of the Breakthrough Charter Schools and representatives of the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Together they changed HB 525 from what the CTU believed was a very detrimental bill to a less horrible bill that preserved some of the voice of the educators. Quolke said the solution, avoided state control and turning the Cleveland Metropolitan School District over to the “so-called reformers.” Quolke said the process of coming to a solution of the problem of fixing HB 525 was not very open; parents, teachers and community members, with very few exceptions, were not included in the process of forming the legislation that paved the way for the Cleveland Plan.
The Cleveland Plan involved passing a school levy that would bring in an estimated $70 million per year. The levy would last three years and be subject to voter approval to be renewed. Prior to the passage of the levy, Quolke said the school district “was on the verge of bankruptcy.” He said, if the levy had not passed, “the devastating impact would be hard to even imagine.”
Now two years into the Cleveland Plan Quolke asked, “How is the plan working? What do we see that is different?”
Teachers originally had high hopes of transforming the 23 Investment or Corrective Action Schools through the addition of more resources. However, Quolke says the school district wants to change the plan from one year to the next. “They don’t get a plan and stick with it. That limits the chance of success,” he said.
Quolke said the issue with the Corrective Action Plan changes for the 23 Investment schools is not that teachers are opposed to dress codes, lesson plans or home visits the School District place in the Corrective Actions Plans. He said teachers are already doing those things. That is not the problem. Those things cost the school district zero dollars, he said.
The issue is, where is the investment? “Are we putting tools and resources into the investment schools?” Quolke asked. As an example, Quolke noted successful math and reading programs developed at one of the Investment Schools – Luis Muñoz Marin – where 100% of the students showed improvement in their math scores and 98% of students improved their reading scores. Quolke called for the CMSD to supply the tools and resources to replicate successful models like that at other schools.
The dialogue at the schools, said Quolke, should not be around what we perceive, but around “what is working and how do we improve? What needs improvement, and how do we get there?”
In 2016, the three years on the current school levy will be up. “When we go back to the community and say this is why you need to invest in this levy, we don’t need adults fighting.”
Quolke said once the levy was passed, the partnership that worked to pass the 2012 levy dissolved. He called for an effort to pull the same people together – teachers, foundations and the business community – to work to get this right.
Quolke also called on the formation of more parent organizations and more involvement of parents in the classroom.
Don Freeman of the Cleveland Education Committee called on a coalition of the members of Common Good, the Cleveland Teachers Union and the Cleveland Education Committee to work together to address the issues raised by David Quolke. Freeman noted that not only does the levy passed in 2012, expire in 2016, but also the first 13 of the 23 investment schools if they have not show sufficient progress in the eyes of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and the Cleveland Foundation – those folks calling the shots – the CEO and the Board of Education can close those schools.
“Any further closure of city schools will further expedite the end of public schools in Cleveland as presently comprised and any further inkling of democracy we will have.” Freeman called on a the coalition to be committed in the upcoming 2015-2016 school year to work to assure the success of the Investment Schools “to prevent the total replacement of public schools with elite public schools and charter schools.”
Responding to Freeman’s statement, Quolke recalled the closure of 24 schools when Eugene Sanders was CEO. “I don’t know if we ever recovered from that. Too often, we don’t realize what a hub a school is to a community.”
Doug Henderson of the Cleveland Education Committee noted that the Boston Consulting Group put together a plan with the Mayor, School Board and Transitional Alliance a portfolio model that basically says, “If you don’t like your school, go to another school.” Henderson said, “Nobody has a plan to do something constructive with the investment schools.”
Pastor Aaron Phillips, a member of Common Good asked CTU President Quolke to comment on rumors circulating that Lincoln West High School could be closed and become a charter school. Quolke said that on July 1 of 2011 the State’s Anti Education School Budget Bill was passed it included a June 29th backdoor budget deal that allowed the Mayor of Cleveland and the Chief Executive Officer to convert any Cleveland Public School into a charter school and eliminate collective bargaining for the school’s staff.
Under that rule, Quolke said, one of the options is for Cleveland to close an investment school or turn it into a charter school. “What would we do at an investment school if that notion comes up. We say, no you are not going to do it. Reform with us, not to us,” said Quolke.
Quolke asked those present to look at the big picture. He asked, “What does school reform look like in every neighborhood and every school?” He said, “The face of the next levy is the investment schools.”
Quolke talked about the urgency of pulling people together in each and every investment school. He said the Cleveland Teachers Union is starting to partner with the community and the community is starting to partner with teachers. He called for hard conversations between parents, community members and teachers about what is working and what is not working in investment schools in order, going forward, to find solutions.
“What we are going to do next is to figure out community partners and schools and form community, parent and teacher groups at every single investment school,” said Quolke.