In a time of racial strife, growing inequality and more questions than answers on how to fix it, it is time that we re-examine what Horace Mann once called “the great equalizer”: education.
Educational equality can change the lives of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. A good education is the key to unlocking the promise of America’s New Economy. From kindergarten to college, a good education is more important now than ever before.
We already know that there are thousands upon thousands of jobs that go unfilled every year in America for lack of a skilled workforce. We also know that, according to some statistics, both Charter and Catholic schools produce more eventual college graduates than their public school counterparts. Furthermore, we also know that it is critical to have a college degree in the New Economy. But in many cities across the country, including Cleveland, there’s still a long way to go to unlock the promise of the 21st century in Education.
There were 96,450 children living in the city of Cleveland in 2015, according to the Center for Community Solutions. 58 percent of those children live in poverty. The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, the city’s voucher system, gives priority to “verified” low income families, but only 6,000-7,000 vouchers are available each year. This means that there are likely thousands of eligible children who do not get access to these vouchers. There are some high performing Charter and Public schools in Cleveland currently but far too many students are still in low-rated schools.
Far too often educational equality is viewed as a battle between public, charter and private schools over limited resources. This needs to change. If the leaders of public, private and public charter schools agree to work together with the ultimate goal of doing what’s best for the kids, our education system can be fixed.
For example, in Cleveland vouchers should be universally available, particularly to low-income students. In exchange for that, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District should be allowed to count and apply to their numbers test scores and attendance records of all students across public, private and public charter schools. Private schools will remain autonomous and independent, similar to public charters who today work with the city and its Transformation Plan. But there would be a shared incentive to work together and to view education in the district as a collaborative effort, instead of a competitive one.
The public school district may benefit financially as well, with the increase of students that would technically be on its rolls as well as an improvement in overall test scores. The increase of resources allows the public school district to re-invest in itself while also providing more investment in its private and charter partners. Best practices can be shared (but not mandated, beyond the state standards that everyone follows now), which could help lift all schools. Private and public charter schools, many of whom do not have the same security presence as public ones, can pay the district to provide CMSD police on campus. That would likely lead to an increase of the CMSD police force, which is positive for job growth and, most importantly, keeping our children safe.
The bottom line is that if we want to provide equality in education, we must increase collaboration and decrease hostility. The Cleveland Transformation Plan had led to more cooperation between public and public charters, but we need to go further. Private schools should be at the table too.