These layoffs indicate that my greatest fear about the Cleveland Plan, for all its great hope and promise on early childhood initiatives especially, is coming true. The plan is so driven by financial desperation that it's difficult to see how the commitments being made to universal pre-school and early childhood academies will ever happen. For the cuts Cleveland announced yesterday will actually eliminate early childhood education opportunities for kids. According to the Plain Dealer story:
The district will also shorten its school day through eighth grade by 50 minutes next school year and cut the number of music, art, library and gym classes for those students as part of the shuffling of staff to handle the layoffs.I thought the goal was to increase the length of the school day and year, especially in the early years? I thought there was going to be a renewed commitment to early childhood education -- one of the most powerful ways to overcome the profound socio-economic challenges facing the Cleveland community?
Instead, CMSD is acting like every other school board that faces devastating cuts -- slash early childhood ed, music, art, gym and library -- hardly the paragon of innovation and re-prioritized focus we have been promised during the many Cleveland Plan webinars and community meetings. If the priority shift the plan's proponents are talking about involves eliminating opportunities for kids and arts programs, where, exactly, is CMSD pivoting toward?
Everyone considers these things educational frills, unless it's their kid with the talent. However, music and art are proving to be essential partners in education, regardless of kids' skill. I remember reading (on Audio CD during my many long drives down I-71) Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat" about Georgia Tech. Here's how the section I remember is described in one online study guide:
When Clough became president of (Georgia Tech) the graduation rate was only 65% and the atmosphere was dull. By altering the admission process to favor students who played a musical instrument or who had played on a sports team, Clough transformed the mood of the college. Students are more creative and have a higher rate of graduation. Moreover, Clough saw that the curriculum at Georgia Tech was altered. Previously, students learned a narrow range of skills; now they are taught to think horizontally and can approach a broad set of tasks creatively.Schools should be figuring out how to more closely integrate arts education into the curriculum to spur creativity and innovation, not whacking it first. Maybe it's because I understand this on a personal level since the most important teacher in my life (who wasn't related to me) was an arts teacher, William Appling, who was a protege of Robert Shaw and a product of the Cleveland schools, by the way. I cringe whenever I hear people talk like the arts are disposable and impossible during budget crunches.
What happened yesterday in CMSD simply is another example of the chief overall concern I have with the Cleveland Plan: no commitment made by the state to provide any funds to CMSD to ensure this plan can succeed. More disturbing still is the fact that CMSD is trumpeting to anyone who will listen that they are proud to not be asking for anything from the state.
Instead, they'd prefer to layoff one-eighth of the staff and eliminate an hour of instruction in the most important developmental stages of children's lives while overseeing a profoundly challenged socio-economic district. Really? That's better than asking the state to partner in the development of this plan? Even though the Ohio Constitution says it's a state not a local responsibility to educate Ohio's kids?
The district is looking to close $40 million of its $65 million hole next year through these layoffs and cut backs. There remains a shortfall for the 13-14 year, however. And the district will still be seeking a big levy this fall, which may or may not pass. And this is supposed to inspire confidence that all 3 and 4 year olds in Cleveland will be enrolled in pre-school anytime soon, which is one of the Cleveland Plan's goals?
To close just that $65 million hole with a levy would require folks in Cleveland (where the median income is just over $22,000) to pay between $300-$400 per $100,000 home. Or it would require the state to come up with about one-quarter of one percent of its annual budget to close that hole. Which do you think sounds more fair, especially given the Ohio Constitution's mandate for the state to provide a system of education in this state?
It wasn't that long ago that the state promised about $160 million for Cleveland over 10 years. Why won't folks in Cleveland hold the state to anything like that promise, even letting the state get away with promising nothing over the next two years, let alone 10? Especially if they're being held up by state leaders as a template for statewide education reform?
If the state's leaders believe what's happening in Cleveland is so important, the least they should do is put some money where their mouth is. Instead, Cleveland's leaders are allowing them to put no money where their mouth is, despite the fact that there's a $265 million surplus at the state.
And now kids won't have exposure to the arts, will receive an hour less of instruction in their most important developmental years and will be taught by a staff that's been demoralized by layoff after layoff. And this is the reform that's supposed to usher in an unprecedented level of student achievement over the next five years, as has been promised by the proponents?
In the words of Seth Meyers, "Really?"