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Cleveland Requests Reprieve From State Takeover

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Leaders in the struggling Cleveland school system are hoping that a package of new laws meant to improve student achievement in the 44,000-student district will save it from a takeover by Ohio education officials—even though its lagging performance could trigger a state intervention.

Eric Gordon, Cleveland's schools chief, has formally requested a reprieve from such a takeover by Ohio's department of education and board of education, saying that the district's "Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools" needs an opportunity to work, according to a report from State Impact, a project of local public media and National Public Radio.

Earlier this month, the Cleveland school district learned it had received another failing grade from state education officials. State law requires that districts that fall short of meeting adequate yearly progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for four straight years must be governed by an appointed "academic distress commission" that works on devising an improvement plan, takes control over budgets, and has authority to remove top-level administrators. The commission's oversight lasts until a district can demonstrate significant improvement.

But in his request, Gordon argued that state oversight is unnecessary for his district because of the changes in the district's sweeping reform plan. He argued that, under provisions of the Cleveland Plan—approved last year by Ohio lawmakers— the department of education and the state board get an oversight role that is equivalent to an academic distress commission. The city schools are directly controlled by Cleveland's mayor.

The Cleveland Plan includes major overhauls to the district's operations, including making it easier for administrators to fire continually low-performing teachers and principals, and requiring performance pay for principals instead of using a set salary schedule. The plan also calls for closing underperforming schools and distributing more decision-making authority to principals.

Cleveland's teachers' union wrote a letter to support the district's request. Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said that the proposal is currently under review.

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