When I bought a house in the city of Cleveland, one of the constant questions I faced was: “but what about the schools?”
Failing public schools are a problem in urban areas throughout Ohio and in more broadly throughout the country. And that is hindering efforts to repopulate even some of the more fashionable city neighborhoods in places like Cleveland. That was the basic premise of the thesis I just completed for my master’s in urban planning.
Using original research, I explored the extent to which failing public schools undermine neighborhood stability by encouraging residential turnover among middle-class residents. I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in the results.
The Cleveland Public Schools are struggling and they have been for decades. Standardized test scores and graduation rates are inexcusably low. The district is more or less a last resort for families without options. It is highly segregated–70 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic–and terribly poor–every school in the district has a poverty rate exceeding 60 percent.
A great body of education research suggests that schools with such demographics are very unlikely to succeed. Schools that have a mix of income levels, those below 40 percent poverty, are much more likely to be effective.
My research looked at the issue of retaining middle-class Cleveland residents through the scope of education. What would it take to convince middle-class people to raise children in the city? My underlying assumption is that without middle-class buy-in, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District will never perform adequately and without adequate performance from the school district, the city will never be truly vibrant.
Here is a summary of the findings from the abstract:
Original research bore out common assumptions about the impact of poorly performing local schools on middle-class tenure in the city. A survey of 271 Near West and Downtown Cleveland residents revealed an overwhelmingly negative perception of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Prospective parents almost universally reported they do not perceive the urban school district to be a viable option for their future children. Only 9 percent reported they would remain in the city and send their children to a public school, given the opportunity. This attitude was reflected as well in the neighborhood’s parents, a clear majority of which (65 percent) reported their children are enrolled in private schools.
It is easy to see how this negative perception of the public school system could hinder residential and neighborhood stability. About 72 percent of those surveyed said they either “had not reached the stage in their life for children,” or had children that have not reached school age. A total of 62 percent of this population said they would move to a suburban district when the time came, or that they “weren’t sure” whether they would move or stay.
A supporting real estate analysis, although limited in scope, showed that 66 percent of neighborhood residents who sold homes valued at $100,000 or more relocated to a suburban municipality.
These results have important implications for these four “emerging neighborhoods.” Advocates of urban revitalization in Cleveland should be focused on helping ensure the local school system is considered a viable option among middle-class residents in order to prevent residential turnover and the resulting decline in real estate values.
The full report is available at http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=csu1295884532.
Also, in a coming post I will share the story of a group of city parents who have banded together to form their own charter school.