Pointing Fingers on Public Schools

Plain Dealer editorial writer Sharon Broussard was treading on familiar ground when she offered this piece of advice to Cleveland Public Schools Eugene Sanders Sunday:

“Don’t be afraid to blow up the current system and come up with really radical ways to create new schools that work and that can gain community support.”

Did you hear that? That was me groaning.

Plain Dealer writers frequently offer this kind of advice, always directed at Mr. Sanders personally. Because if only he would “come up with really radical new ways to create news schools that work,” Cleveland Public Schools would be fixed. Presto. Chango.

Perhaps you could tell, I find this kind of commentary pretty worthless. Plain Dealer editorial board writers don’t tell the CEO of the Eaton Corporation how to do his job. Nor do they make similar demands of Gov. Strickland. Always, when they’ve got a bright idea, they write an editorial and address it to Eugene Sanders.

To me, the subtext seems to be: this is your problem, buddy, not ours. The Cleveland Public Schools have been in crisis mode for 30 years, and if you in your singular authority can’t find a way to change it, we are going to call it a failure on your part, ignoring the larger trends for which we are all responsible.

Just once, I’d like to open up the Plain Dealer and see an editorial that lays the blame where it clearly belongs: on society as a whole. I would like to see them say, the failures of Cleveland Public Schools are community failures, including but not limited to, the abandonment of the city by the middle class; the failure to fix a school funding system that has four times been ruled unconstitutional; the fragmentation of our education system and broken and inequitable tax system that incentivises sprawl over land conservation.

I would like the Plain Dealer to admit, that Cleveland Public Schools will never be healthy again until they can claim some middle class children on their rolls. Until some people with resources have a stake in Cleveland Public Schools, they will continue to suffer, no matter what Eugene Sanders does.

I guess it’s safer to make demands of the superintendent of one of Ohio’s worst school districts like he has some kind of magical power to beat the odds which no other big city superintendent has managed. Because, of course, it’s his problem, and if he were a competent leader, Cleveland Public Schools would surely rise again.



Filed under Editorial, Education

12 responses to “Pointing Fingers on Public Schools

  1. Steve gross

    Cleveland lacks a middle class, yet tries to provide the normal range of municipal services that only be sustained by a middle class tax base. Residents can complain all they want about cmsd problems, but unless and until the real problems of clevelands impoverishment are addressed nothing will change.

  2. schmange

    Agreed! That said, I don’t mean to beat up Cleveland schools. They actually have quite a few exciting alternative schools.

    I just bought a house in Cleveland and I’ve been thinking, maybe I’ll send my kids there one day. They could choose from a top-rated arts school, or one that specializes in science and math, or a technical school where they could learn a trade.

    I live right next to an elementary school and it is the school Cleveland sends all its ESL students. There are something like 150 countries represented. There’s African kids playing soccer on the playground all the time. How cool it would it be, as a kid, to be exposed to so many cultures. Those are the kid of things suburban schools don’t offer.

  3. Count on me to point out the non PC fact that urban density and traditional mixed use would allow for greater competition among not only public and charter schools but also among private schools.

    In fact, it’s likely that with vouchers or even better yet, the complete elimination of state schools that cities like Pittsburgh would do very well.

    That’s why NYC was pretty much the birth place of the magnet school trend. School district 2, Manhattan– Anthony Alvarado.

  4. Special K

    Angie– Exactly! I don’t think David Simon (of The Wire) could have said it any better himself!

  5. Peter D

    A spot on post. I would just push back a little: while the state of the cleveland public schools is a result of (in part) the middle class leaving, I’m not sure I could “blame” the middle class for doing so. Idealism and hope animates lives until its your own kids…

    That said, I’m a middle class fellow, with a wife and two kids, who’s looking to buy in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood even knowing the state of the schools. I want to see CMSD succeed…. It looks like Cleveland leadership (and the new “transformational plan”) is embracing “school choice” and alternative (i.e. charter) schools. What do you think of this direction?

    • schmange

      I do sort of blame the middle class. Funny though, I just bought a house in the Detroit Shoreway too.
      I am all for school choice, personally. There are a lot of choices for Cleveland Public School students and that is one advantage the district has over the suburbs. I feel like I can figure out a way to make it work, when I have kids. I could go on and on, but I think children should be exposed to diversity and some adversity. Also, I think parental education levels are the best determination of a child’s academic success.

      I am just playing around with these ideas right now. I was actually thinking of doing a research project about middle class people in the city of Cleveland. Where do they send their kids? Can community development efforts like the one taking place in the Detroit Shoreway be broadened to incorporate school improvement. If there was just one strong school nearby, think what that would do for the neighborhood…

  6. schmange

    And while I do blame the middle class, I don’t have kids. So I don’t know what that’s like.

  7. I think these issues go a lot deeper and are more complex than just describing it as white flight or the loss of the “middle class”.

    For example in NYC and I think Pittsburgh also people of all races line up to get their kids into Catholic schools many of which have mostly minority students.

    Also in NYC at least a very large number of whites were forcibly removed from the homes and neighborhoods they loved by urban renewal and other government programs.

    The low estimate is that Robert Moses moved 500,000 people to build his highways and destroyed Jewish neighborhoods like East Tremont in the Bronx as well as Italian ones like Williamsburg in Brooklyn. These people didn’t “flee”, they were kicked out at gunpoint. These numbers don’t include the areas destroyed to build housing projects.

    The same thing happened in Newark’s Central Ward which saw the removal of not just the cities core African American neigborhood but also an old Italian section.

    The general trend in city after city is that the number of housing units destroyed was never fully replaced.

  8. Peter D


    While agree that the exodus of the “middle class” is but a symptom among many, it is nevertheless part of the issue. And, no, the exodus of the middle class is not just a “white flight” issue – its an economic issue. Thus, there are often motivating factors (other than race) which cause the exodus (see e.g. the black middle class exodus from Pittsburgh’s “Hill district” – which was primarily the result of government development projects – the plopping down of the Arena with no community imput – the plopping down of section 8/projects without community imput). I think Pittsburgh is doing a decent job of not replicating those same mistakes. The community organization “One Hill” procured a “Community Benefits Agreement” with the developers of the new Arena. “Pittsburgh United” and “Northside United” have made strides to insure commmunity involvement in the development on the Northside, the Casino, as well as in East Liberty (Bakery Square) and elsewhere.


    I’m not convinced that “community development organization” is the same as “community organizing” organization. Development is development – economic (and while good schools is decidedly an economic issue – it is also very much a human issue). I think if you compare the work of the community organizing groups of ’75-’85 to the development organizations of today, you can see a huge difference in focus (check out Randy Cunningham’s DEMOCRATIZING CLEVELAND, THE RISE AND FALL OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZING IN CLEVELAND FROM 1975-1985). As he describes it, there was a long period of time when the city (and banks) could care less about development in Cleveland’s neighborhoods (except downtown). Thus, you have “redlining” practices of the banks, such that even if the middle class wanted to invest, the banks were simply not loaning in certain “redlined” neighborhoods.

    Anyhow, just a bunch of rambling thoughts…

    Are you studying urban development? (I just notice you mentioned doing a “research project”.


  9. schmange


    Thanks for the advice. You seem to know a lot about the subject. I am studying urban planning, development and design at Cleveland State.

    Actually, I just learned that a group of Ohio City residents is trying to arrange the creation of a CMSD-sponsored charter school for residents who want to raise families in the neighborhood. This is an exciting project and I’ll be following it with my master’s thesis.

  10. Peter D


    Do you know who is behind the Charter School and what the basic premise of the school will be? Will it be open admission etc…?

  11. Peter,

    You can email me at schmitt.81@gmail.com and I will send you the information that I have.

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