How Cincinnati Turned Its Schools Around
And What Other Systems Can Learn From It
Despite being plagued by the problems that beset most urban school systems, the Cincinnati public schools have managed to increase the four-year high school graduation rate from 51 percent in 2000, to 79 percent in 2007. Perhaps more important, they have, as of 2007, eliminated the gap between African-American and white students in graduation rates. This feat was accomplished, moreover, as the state of Ohio was raising academic standards and requiring students to pass more-challenging assessments to receive their diplomas.
No one in Cincinnati is satisfied, of course, with a 79 percent graduation rate. But the city’s progress in boosting student achievement is historic, and well worth examining for lessons that may be applicable to other school systems nationwide. Cincinnati is, if not the first, among the first urban districts to eliminate long-standing disparities between students of different races in achieving one of the most meaningful educational markers of all: completing high school.
How did this happen? Over the past seven years, Cincinnati has had a number of partners supporting its school reforms, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At the foundation’s suggestion, I began working with the district and its partners in 2000, and my experiences have been eye-opening. This improvement effort is one of the most significant and successful I’ve seen since entering the profession in 1970. Those tackling their own systemwide problems would do well to study what Cincinnati has done. Here, from my perspective, are...
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