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A Tale of Two Cincinnati’s

Special Briefing from Education Nation
September 24, 2012

Cincinnati’s public school system is featured as an Education Nation case study because of its holistic approach to education, beginning with wraparound services before children have even entered kindergarten.

But while the achievement claims made by the superintendent sound promising, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all of Cincinnati’s students are achieving at grade level.

The data touted says the percentage of children deemed ready for kindergarten, has increased nine percentage points since 2005 based on a standardized kindergarten readiness test. However, the total number of students deemed ready is still a very low 50 percent.

Eighth-grade math scores for Cincinnati public school students have increased 24 percentage points over the same period. It’s hard to know if that is a direct correlation to the wraparound services provided by these organizations, such as Strive, which estimates that around 100,000 children and students participate in the partnership in some fashion.

It’s clear from reviewing the Ohio Department of Education school district level report cards that at least over three years (2008-09 through 2010-11), proficiency in Cincinnati has increased modestly in most grades and in both math and reading. Third graders increased their proficiency in reading and math by ten percent over a three-year period, and tenth graders increased their proficiency by eight points in reading and seven points in math. However there is no record of scores over the last five years and tests have changed — dramatically. The question is how is this being measured?

More importantly, the urban district has affluent schools and poor schools. What is the disaggregated data for poor and wealthy schools? Education Trust did a path breaking report on this issue several years ago and found that many overall district’s progress actually masked static or declining scores and progress at some of the less advantaged schools. To truly understand Cincy’s progress we must look at school by school level data, understand the definition of proficiency, and whether or not the tests students are taking are the same or different.

Last year there were 31 charter schools in Cincinnati serving nearly 10,000 students, clearly showing the need for educational options. The Cincinnati school district’s website has one vague sentence about their achievement: “Cincinnati Public Schools’ students score higher on state tests than students in charter schools.” However, looking further this statement does not necessarily reflect what is really happening on the ground. Value-added data analysis by the OAPCS show that Cincinnati charter schools outperformed district schools on 4 of the past 5 years, and more charter schools than public schools exceeded their expected amount of growth. Forty-one percent of charter schools exceeded their growth targets, compared to only 30 percent of district schools.

Ohio does afford parents more power than most states and many have chosen to attend charters and private schools with publicly sanctioned programs that allow them to pick schools that best meet the needs of their children. In addition to students who attend charter schools, about 3,000 kids have chosen to leave Cincinnati public schools through an Ed Choice Scholarship and those who left are more likely to have been struggling, not succeeding. The new special needs scholarship had 199 applications from Cincinnati, the most of any Ohio school district. Parents in Cincy are clamoring for options because the public schools clearly are lacking.

Kudos to those advancing the education mission in Cincinnati but let’s be sure we know the real scoop before saying we’re on the right trajectory.