Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: June 2018

Cleveland Metropolitan School District is making strides on many fronts: helping families through the school choice process, improving school leadership, and expanding school autonomy. These efforts are anchored by Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, a citywide, voter-funded improvement strategy that includes the district and participating charter schools. Despite improvements on some metrics, like graduation rates, overall Cleveland’s achievement rates remain low, especially when compared to other large urban cities. Reforms are still evolving, but as leaders of the Cleveland Plan re-evaluate strategies at the five-year mark, they will need to use the strong foundation they have already built to refocus goals to aggressively address persistently low-performing schools and redesign or consolidate under-enrolled schools. This will require more coordination across the diverse charter sector and improved engagement with families most impacted by low-performing schools.

System Reforms

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

Broad support Exemplar
Variety of groups Good
City engages families Good
System is responsive Developing

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good
Equitable funding Good
Right teachers Developing

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Array of school models Good
Enrollment is working Good
Families have information Good
Transportation is working Good
Strategic school supply Developing

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

► Addressing underenrolled and low-performing schools

Education leaders in Cleveland acknowledge that, despite steps taken over the last several years to close and redesign schools, there are still too many low-performing and under-enrolled district and charter schools, especially at the K–8 level. CMSD leaders, alongside charter operators and authorizers, must take aggressive steps to close or consolidate under-enrolled and low-performing schools, while being careful and strategic about redesigning or opening new options. School closures are never easy, but making use of clear and consistent criteria for closure or consolidation and being public and transparent about processes can help. District leaders could make their existing internal school performance framework public so families can see how their school compares on key metrics. Additionally, communicating with families affected far in advance about their school’s status, establishing clear opportunities for input and how it will be used, and showing families what their alternatives are, have helped families feel supported in these transitions in other cities. These closures and consolidations will also be more palatable and result in better outcomes for students when better options are available. Interviewees indicate that CMSD has had success with its redesigned high schools and is beginning to follow suit with redesigned K–8 options. In addition to building community and business partnerships as part of these redesigns, district leaders can consider partnering with charter operators in order to build more high-quality school choices.

► Improving coordination within the charter sector 

Cleveland has a robust charter sector that enrolls about 30% of the city’s public school students. Like district schools, charter schools have variable quality. While some charter schools coordinate with CMSD as formal partners or through the Cleveland Compact, around 60% of charter schools do not work with the district or other education entities in either way. In a city with nine different authorizers, too many schools, and chronic low performance, increased coordination is likely necessary to improve education for all students. One barrier to wider charter engagement is that many charter schools want to preserve their autonomy, and don’t see the benefit to coordination. However, there are several areas that all charters could benefit from partnering on and which could be a first step toward deeper coordination. First, there is no centralized data collection around charter talent, and there is a perception among interviewees that teachers and school leaders are of mixed quality. Through shared pipeline or recruiting efforts, like those that other cities have tried, the charter sector could share responsibility for growing talent. Second, charters struggle with low funding from the state and scarce access to facilities. A coalition of high-quality charter schools could advocate together for fairer funding and increased access to facilities.  No existing organizations provide an opportunity for all charter schools to advocate together. This could occur through expanded work by the Cleveland Compact or the Transformation Alliance, or it may require a new, third-party organization that works only with charter operators.

► Helping families find and enroll in the right school

In CRPE’s 2017 parent survey, parents reported that finding the information on schools is a challenge, and education leaders reported in 2018 that the varied enrollment processes across charter and district options are a barrier for families. While the Transformation Alliance already provides a cross-sector school guide and there are new programs to help students choose high schools, many cities are exploring high-touch advocacy programs to help families understand options. The Alliance has just begun to pilot such a program in one neighborhood, but philanthropic support of an existing community-based organization to evaluate and expand the Alliance’s new program might help ensure that the most underserved families gain access to the evolving school options. Beyond helping families access information, there are interim steps that education leaders could take to simplify enrollment processes like aligning deadlines, building a common application for only charter schools, and, when leaders are ready, engaging a neutral third party to build a unified system so that autonomous charters feel more comfortable with the process.


Mayor-Led Coalition Crafts Initiatives, Tracks Progress to Transform Schools

In many school systems, the increasing complexity of governance can create new collective action problems. Led by Mayor Frank Jackson, a coalition of leaders from a variety of sectors in Cleveland has managed to buck typical patterns of turnover and siloed work to focus on shared goals through the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools.

Through the Plan, leaders, representing the district, mayor’s office, chamber of commerce, philanthropy, a variety of charter schools, the community, and nonprofits meet on a regular basis to track progress on goals and work on initiatives.

City leaders describe several factors that support this voluntary partnership. Most leaders have been involved since the beginning of the Plan in 2012 and have built solid relationships and trust. There are clear metrics for success, and partners hold each other accountable for taking action. Different interests and priorities arise among members, but they have established citywide shared goals that are at the forefront of their collaboration. And they are clear on how each player fits into the bigger picture.

Cleveland leaders still have work to do to meet their goals, and they can’t let satisfaction with progress to date get in the way of accelerating improvement. But the foundations for successful collective action have been built to support future success.

New School Designs Prepare Students for High-Wage Employment

CMSD leaders have built a promising school design process that combines design principles, data on enrollment and neighborhood needs, and community engagement to develop K–12 school models that align with regional economic demands and community business assets.

School design teams are made up of local businesses and families, and have community asset maps developed by the district and regional economic trends commissioned by a local funder. As a result of this work, two IT and tech-focused school models have opened on the west side of the city, where the city’s manufacturing companies and tech firms are concentrated (in addition to two on the Eastside). Additionally, just this year, CMSD opened an Aerospace and Maritime High School and another high school with a life science focus through partnership with Cleveland Metropark Zoo.

These models prepare students for high-growth, high-wage employment opportunities in the Cleveland area. CMSD is now using this process to engage the communities around several K–8 school redesigns.

Student and School Outcomes

In 2013-14, students were proportionately enrolled in advanced math coursework in high school, but in the same year white students enrolled in top-scoring elementary and middle schools at higher rates than they enrolled in lower-performing schools. School proficiency rates in math and reading did not show statistically significant gains relative to the state between 2011-12 and 2014-15.

► In 2013-14, all student sub-groups in the city were enrolled in advanced math coursework at similar rates as in high school.

► Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the city’s proficiency rate trends in math mirrored the state’s. In 2014-15, the city’s proficiency rate was below the state’s.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Performance data from the Ohio Department of Education and graduation data from EDFacts. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Cleveland

Reform and improvement efforts in Cleveland are guided by Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, a local levy and improvement strategy first approved by voters in 2012 and again with the levy’s renewal in 2016. The Plan brings together CMSD, charter leaders, and local elected officials. The Transformation Alliance, a cross-sector organization, advocates for the Cleveland Plan and engages the community. Since 2012, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has had a school autonomy strategy that includes every school. CMSD is continuing to increase school-level flexibilities and adjust the central office to better support the strategy.

School Choice in the City

Families are informed of their neighborhood elementary schools, but they can choose among all CMSD schools using the district-run lottery. The city also has about 65 charter schools.

Governance Model

Cleveland’s Board of Education is made up of nine voting members appointed by the mayor from a slate of nominees selected by a local nominating panel, established under state law. The city is served by nine different charter authorizers, called sponsors, in Ohio.

2017 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 55,600 students
Race and ethnicity: 65% black, 16% Hispanic, 15% white, 4% other

2017 School Composition 

Source: Enrollment data for district and charter schools from Cleveland Transformation Alliance, 2017.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email