To the Editor:
In his Commentary “How Cincinnati Turned Its Schools Around” (Jan. 9, 2008), Joe Nathan rightly commends the Cincinnati public school system for improving its high school graduation rate. The district has undertaken many commendable reforms, especially within the high school sector, and has made great strides in this area in recent years.
What Mr. Nathan doesn’t say is that Cincinnati still struggles mightily to educate its poorest and neediest youngsters, and that the district’s work is far from done—particularly in reforming its elementary and middle schools.
Ohio administers 18 achievement tests across grades 3 through 8. Cincinnati didn’t meet the state standard for proficiency on a single one of those tests last year. The results are even worse when you compare subgroups of students.
In 2007, Cincinnati’s black-white achievement gap soared above 25 points on 12 of those 18 tests. The narrowest gap was 17 points in 4th grade writing, and the widest was 39.2 points in 8th grade science.
The district isn’t doing any better when it comes to educating its neediest children, either. The gap between economically disadvantaged students and those who aren’t was greater than 25 points on 10 of the 18 state achievement tests last year, with the smallest gap at 17.7 points in 7th grade writing, and the largest at 32.3 points in 5th grade social studies.
These numbers are especially troubling when you consider that 71 percent of Cincinnati’s student population is African-American and 65 percent is economically disadvantaged.
Cincinnati cannot afford to stop the reform train now, and in fact needs to accelerate it. The district must continue its efforts to transform its high schools, while simultaneously turning attention toward the large and persistent achievement gaps among younger students. This will be a challenging and significant task for the next superintendent (the district’s fourth in 10 years), but a critical one if the district is serious about ensuring that all students have the opportunity to succeed.
Emmy L. Partin
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as Cincinnati Schools ‘Cannot Afford To Stop the Reform Train Now’