Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Guided by the Cleveland Plan and long-term leadership, education leaders have made progress over the past five years on improving school information, supporting families during the school choice and school closure processes, and creating community-based school options. Work is still needed to improve coordination in school siting, streamline enrollment, and respond to community input.


Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.



► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools continues to guide the city’s education strategy, providing opportunity for strong civic alignment. The alliance supporting the strategy includes the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), the mayor, leaders in the charter sector, teachers, union leaders, business leaders, and parent representatives. That array of stakeholders continues to be represented on the Transformation Alliance’s board and voters have twice approved levy funding for the Plan. This group of leaders is now championing a new cross-city school improvement effort Say Yes to Education, which provides scholarships for postsecondary training and education and coordinates and increases capacity for school-based wraparound supports for students and families.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

Local businesses and nonprofits, the chamber of commerce, a coalition of 40 churches known as the Greater Cleveland Congregations, local funders, university leaders, and the national nonprofit United Way all support and engage with education in the city. Neighborhood-based community and civic organizations, including Community Development Corporations, are also involved, but the degree varies by region. The Transformation Alliance engages families, but there are no grassroots parent groups involved in the strategy.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

The district has strong procedures to engage families during school redesigns, but charter procedures differ by school and both sectors lack clear procedures for engaging families during school closures. CMSD has developed a step-by-step process to involve families and communities in redesigning curricular models for existing schools. Currently, the district is working with 14 different school communities to ensure redesigned schools incorporate community assets. The charter sector is governed by nine different authorizers; there are no sectorwide practices guiding charter school engagement with families during school openings. Cleveland has many underenrolled and low-performing schools, both district and charter. There have been a few closures and consolidations in recent years, but processes to engage communities remain challenging. The Transformation Alliance helps families find new options when a school closes.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

The district’s Office of Family and Community Engagement provides opportunities for community feedback and engagement. In district schools, active PTAs are able to successfully advocate for their schools. There is a perception among some community leaders, however, that pockets of the city struggle to advocate for better resources and opportunities, despite available avenues through local government and community-based groups. The quality of school-level engagement varies widely within the charter sector. For example, based on limited interviews from 2017, it appears that some charter schools are not adequately informing parents where they can go when they have a grievance with their school. In 2017, the Transformation Alliance started to explore ways to better support family advocacy, but the work is still early.

Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

CMSD is intentional about aligning leadership with district initiatives. There is no data or strategy on school leadership across the charter sector. CMSD has been working for several years to attract, develop, and provide support for autonomous school leaders, which is a high priority under the Cleveland Plan, and is working to reorient the central office to help school leaders. The district uses internal pipelines like the Aspiring Principals Academy and recruits nationally; however, quality still varies by school. There is no central source of information about charter leaders across the nine charter authorizers, and no sectorwide or citywide leadership strategy.


► Does funding equitably follow students?

Cleveland allocates more than 5% but less than 50% of district money to schools using a student-based allocation formula (based on analysis of fiscal year 2017-18). The district is developing the central office supports for principals to use their budgeting autonomy. The district provides vendor report cards and menus of optional resources.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

CMSD is using data to identify where they are getting their best candidates to guide central office recruitment, plan clearer teacher leader pathways, build retention strategies, and design central office supports to school-level teams that hire teachers. CMSD has had success with recruitment through its TeachCleveland campaign. While the district is working on several strategies and has its own data collection process, there is no centralized data collection across charter schools, making it impossible for CRPE researchers or others to fully understand the talent issues across the city. But there is a perception among interviewees that within the charter sector, teacher quality varies widely across schools. CMSD and the charter sector have worked together a few times on collaborative professional development efforts and have at times worked with a local university on pipeline development.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

CMSD uses a common enrollment and lottery system for all district schools, and has recently modified the timeline so that all parts of the enrollment process fall within the school year. This helps to make sure staff are available to support families. Each charter school has its own application and deadline. Early discussions are underway about the prospect of a unified enrollment system, and the need for more coordination around this has been cited. While this would streamline the process, our 2017 survey of 400 parents in the city identified enrollment as less of a barrier than other aspects of the application process: families reported that finding transportation and information were greater difficulties. A higher percentage of district families than charter families reported difficulty with understanding school eligibility (26% district vs. 21% charter) and completing confusing paperwork (19% district vs. 14% charter).


► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

The Cleveland Transformation Alliance produces a consolidated information guide, both online and in print, that allows families to compare choices across charter and district schools. The guide is regularly updated, and the online version will soon be redesigned for greater usability. But it does not provide consistent information about curriculum or allow families to compare schools by instructional model. The Alliance, CMSD, and city nonprofits host community events to support families during the school choice process. For example, the Tru2U mentor program provides coaching for 8th graders on high school options. Despite this work, in a 2017 survey, about a third of charter school families and a quarter of district families said that finding enough information was a challenge during the application process. 2018 interviewees report that finding and making sense of information remains a challenge, especially for families interested in charter schools. Families of students with special needs struggle to understand their rights to services or find a school that’s a good fit.


► Is transportation working for families?

CMSD provides bus service to K–6 students, free public transit passes to citywide high schools, and starting in fall 2018, will provide bus service to K-6 charter schools. Among families surveyed in 2017, transportation was a greater barrier than enrollment or information during the school choice process; charter school families reported this at a slightly higher rate than district school families (38% charter vs. 32% district). While access to transportation will soon improve for families attending charter schools, community members in 2017 said that families would prefer to attend a school close to home if given the option.


► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Of both charter and district schools that opened or restarted between 2014-15 and 2017-18, about a third use a nontraditional instructional model, including Montessori, dual language, and competency-based models. In general, CMSD’s move toward autonomy has resulted in greater curricular variety among district schools, and the focus on community partnerships has created a variety of career prep schools. But in our 2017 parent survey, fewer than half (44%) said there is a great deal of variety between schools, and 37% reported that finding a good fit school is a difficulty during the application process.


► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

CMSD uses an internal framework to guide school opening and closing decisions. However, the city has nine different charter authorizers and no central body to navigate and prioritize neighborhood needs citywide. Recent reports indicate that, while opening high-quality high school options has been an area of success for Cleveland, more planning and attention is needed on siting coordination and quality among K8 options for both district and charter schools. Charter and district schools have been closed and redesigned in recent years, but 2018 interviewees report that the city still has too many underenrolled and poor-performing schools in both sectors. The need for the city to push harder on their goal of having high-quality options in every neighborhood is reflected in 2017 survey data: over half of families in Cleveland still attend their neighborhood-assigned school (53%), and 45% say that finding a school with strong academics is a challenge during the application process.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

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. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


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