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Cleveland State of the School Address by Eric Gordon

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On Tuesday, September 8th, we were part of the 900 people gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel to hear Mr. Eric Gordon, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO, give his 2018 State of the School Address.

It was Mr. Gordon's 8th such address and before the program started we spoke to both him and Ms. Karen Thompson, Chief of Staff for CMSD, about programs to assist new English learners who have recently immigrated to the United States. We were told that recently arrived immigrant/refugee children were first assigned to Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy on West 46th Street where they generally stay for two years to master English before being assigned to a different school. However, the schools that they are assigned to have a lot of other immigrant/refugee children who are recent English-language learners so a support system is available both officially and from their peers; these schools are prepared to offer special assistance if needed.

During his speech, Mr. Gordon offered examples of two tweets (one positive and one negative) as symbolic of the contradictory mood concerning CMSD's progress.

The positive tweet read:

We often and rightfully talk about what is to repair/improve in #Cleveland-what we have as a known goodness is an amazing cadre of teachers, staff and @EricGordon_CEO who love our kids & teach them with every fiber of their best selves every day, this I know. Thank you

The negative tweet then challenged the positive tweet:

I disagree with your judgement of Eric. Might be a nice person but he doesn't have a clue about his district. He is surrounded by wannabes and people that give him misinformation to their betterment. I would love to have a sincere conversation with you about this.

Mr. Gordon said that to him it is clear that, in some ways, both of these Twitter users are right. And neither is right. He went on to explain that last week the Ohio Dept. of Education released its annual report cards for Ohio's schools and districts and that even though CMSD technically received D's and F's, other standards of measurement reflected significant progress.

For instance, we noted the following, quoting Mr. Gordon:

·         On the Achievement measure itself, for example, CMSD scored an F again this year. That fact fits nicely on a tweet; however, that's not the entire story. What the F doesn't immediately show is that CMSD posted gains in proficiency on 19 of the 21 state tests measured, or that the District's average gain this year was 6.7%, far higher that the average gain of 1.2% statewide, and the 4% of gain of other Ohio urban districts.

·         That F also hides the fact that on the state's Performance Index, a summary score of overall test performance, CMSD moved from an F to a D this year, posting the strongest gains on this measure of any Ohio urban district since its creation in 2016...

·         In fact, CMSD's two year 5.8% gain on the Performance Index is actually more than double the state average of 2.6 points, and while CMSD increased 1.8 points this year alone, compared to a 1/10th pf a point increase statewide, nearly half of Ohio's school districts actually did worse on the Performance Index than they did the year before.

·         On Ohio's Graduation Rate measure, while still rated as an F, we continue to show huge gains-improving our graduation rate another 2.5% percentage points to another record high of 74.6% this year. That's a total increase of 22.4 percentage points since 2011, making us not only the fastest-improving urban school district, the fourth fastest-improving school in the entire state!

·         The state's Gap Closing measure is a measure showing how well school districts are meeting performance expectations in English and math for our most vulnerable populations, as well as expectations for meeting Ohio's graduation requirements and for meeting English language acquisition for our English language learners. Here, too, CMSD is showing progress. Up from an F last year, CMSD earned a D on the Gap Closing measure, closing gaps in English language arts in every single subgroup (White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Economically Disadvantaged, English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities) that's every single subgroup by at least 10%.

Mr. Gordon went on to mention something that really troubled us: CMSD struggled to meet growth targets for English language acquisition for our newcomer students, for whom English language and American culture are brand new, and that struggle brought our total score down to a D. Personally, we don't think it’s fair to rank newcomer students in this assessment at all.

Yet Mr. Gordon went on to say that even with these real challenges ahead of us, CMSD outperformed 61 other Ohio school districts in the Gap Closing measure this year. However, this sounds less impressive when one realizes that there are 611 school districts in Ohio and therefore CMSD was outperformed by 90% of all Ohio schools.

It's also true that while many more CMSD students are graduating high school than ever before, far too few are graduating fully ready for college or a high-skill, high-wage career, said Mr. Gordon, That's not to say that our students graduate with no readiness, but it does say that our students are not fully ready. This is clearly evident on Ohio's Ready for Success report card measure.

He cited as a possible means of assistance the Say Yes to Education program that he defined as a comprehensive support system for kids and their families, coupled with a last dollar scholarship that guarantees all CMSD graduates the opportunity for career and college training, is the absolutely right next step if we're really going to tackle summer learning loss and true college or career readiness post high-school.
(see http://www.clepath2sayyes.org/about/story-mission/)

He discussed the other positive things that the CMSD has in its favor, including high school options, new learning models in PreK-8 schools, and expansion of the International Baccalaureate programming to the new William Rainey Harper School.

Near the end of his speech, Mr. Gordon made excellent use of the phrase, Rome wasn't built in a day when he surmised that in truth, Rome was built hour by hour, day by day, year by year, by continuously laying bricks, one after another until, slowly but surely an empire emerged...Well, it's not just that they built it; it's what they built! With those bricks they built the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Vatican! You see, they just weren't building for the day-they were building for the future! Similarly, under 'The Cleveland Plan', CMSD has been building for the future, too.

He assured us that since launching 'The Cleveland Plan' in 2012, we've laid hundreds of bricks on our reform path. Each brick laid was borne out of the dreams and ideals of so many people in this room who not only envision a high-quality education system for every child in the city, but who backed that vision with a commitment to realize that dream and to provide the resources and supports needed to make it happen. It's true. We're not done. We haven't arrived at our goal. And, yes, we still have a long way to go. But like Rome 'The Cleveland Plan' is the result of a vision. As with the Romans', the bricks we've laid, hour by hour, day by day, year by year, are the system we are designing and putting in place to achieve our dream.

Accordingly, Mr. Gordon concluded on an ebullient note by thanking those who helped construct the vision for 'Cleveland's Plan for Transforming Schools', brick by brick, hour by hour as we pursue our dream of building and educational empire for the children of Cleveland and for the future of this great city we love.

Afterwards, there was a Q&A where many students from CMSD asked Mr. Gordon questions. This gave him the opportunity to talk about issues that were not included in address such as aid to homeless students, school security, bullying, shortage of counselors, and Betsy DeVoss' consideration of arming teachers. To our great relief, on that latter point, he said that there was no place for weapons inside schools, period.

Justin Faulhaber