Repackaging Failure


Guest post by an anonymous teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio school system.

The Cleveland Metropolitan school District has come up with the "Cleveland plan" to improve what are considered to be our failing schools. As part of the Cleveland plan they have designated several "Investment Schools" which will receive a shake up in their staffing along with a rebadging. The question remains as to what else if anything they will receive as part of this plan.

As with so many times in the past the majority opinion is that this is simply another sleight of hand move by the mayor and the CEO of the Cleveland schools to draw attention away from the real problem while simultaneously keeping the blame upon the teachers and the schools themselves. Interestingly enough several of the new personnel at CMSD were brought on board at the district as recently as just last year. What do they have in common? They all came from the same charter school background in the Metropolitan DC area.

There has long been a feeling among Cleveland teachers that the ultimate intent of our district is to turn the majority of our schools, if not all of them, into charter schools within the next 10 years. Interestingly enough just a few months ago I happened to be eating lunch at one of my favorite restaurants downtown within earshot of two people who were obviously in an informal job interview. One was someone who works for the school district, as I heard several of our schools mentioned by name, and the other was someone who was being looked at for what appeared to be a management position. The person from the district on more than one occasion stated that within the next five years the majority of the schools in the district would be running on a charter School model.

We had our staff meeting last week and the chief academic officer was there to brief us and supposedly answer questions. The briefing was rather circuitous and there were not a lot of specifics except the fact that staff would be required to reapply for their jobs through an interview process. Emphasis was made on getting parents involved, improving student attendance and participation, etc. These are things that we've been working on steadfastly for years using everything at our disposal besides costumed monkeys riding dwarf ponies wilst spinning plates on sticks..

Almost all of the questions asked by teachers during the course of the meeting revolved around our inability to do just these things and the feeling that we have had very little if any support for the administration on these issues in the past. Instead of assisting the district constantly hammers us about our poor test scores and poor daily attendance rates.

This is a very lower lower-class neighborhood. Many of our children come to school daily in filthy clothes and not having had breakfast, sleep, or a variety of other necessities. The lack of any alternative vocational or employability skills training was also brought up in questions. Truly this is the link pin to bring our neighborhood and others like it up from a pressure cooker of disinterest, crime, and subculture to a working-class neighborhood where people have the ability and the inclination to invest in their children's future literally and figuratively.

Upon direct questioning as to how much more money was going to be put directly into the school as a "investment school" the CAO skirted the question by simply saying that it would be determined by the school board.
We've seen small schools, academies, and school improvement grant (SIG) schools. The commonality among all of them is the fact that no effort is made to address the needs of school discipline, culture, and mutual respect. Just last week we had a virtual riot at my school with a group of approximately 6 students showing up in the parking lot two hours after school commenced. They were brought inside by security and questioned. Another student from the opposing faction then pulled the fire alarm causing everyone to spill out into the parking lot. At this point several flights erupted simultaneously including one in which a young lady produced a tasser from her purse and began tasing other students around her. A student in the opposing group produced a padlock and began hitting girls in the head with it causing serious gashes on several. When parents were contacted and after police arrived the biggest complaint from the parents was as to how the school could've let this happen. None seemed to be angry with their children or to question why their children were purposely inciting a riot on school grounds and using weapons. The parents actually knew that the fight was being precipitated on Facebook yet they failed to inform the school or take any effort to intervene themselves.

I'm honestly at a loss as to how we can change this culture that we produced which makes it okay to solve every problem with a fist, a knife a taser or a gun. Our leaders tell us we have to have high standards, create a welcoming environment and been understanding of our students diverse needs. We do this and much more. Who we are helping by telling each and every one of them that they are going to college is a question I'd like to see answered.

In the meantime we can continue to smile and recreate ourselves every couple of years while our students continue to end up wearing ankle bracelets, getting high every morning, starting fights and ending up in in jail or worse.