CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon met Monday with President Obama and came away confident that the president grasps "the importance of getting it right" when it comes to education in the nation's big-city schools.
The CEO was one of seven urban superintendents who met privately with Obama at the White House. The school leaders discussed their districts' progress and expressed concern about the adverse impact that potential changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act could have on them.
"The president has a clear understanding that the progress we are making in American education is largely being driven by the increases in performance that we are seeing in America's city schools, and Cleveland is an example," said Gordon, who was in Washington with the other superintendents for a conference sponsored by the Council of the Great City Schools. The council represents 67 of the country's largest school systems.
"The nation's highest graduation rate on record is fueled in part by our own double-digit gains in our graduation rate," the CEO added. "Dramatic decreases in the nation's dropout rate also reflect the progress we've made in lowering the dropout rate in big cities that are truly a microcosm of the big-picture work in American education."
The country's high school graduation rate has reached a record 81 percent, the U.S. Department of Education announced last month. CMSD's graduation rate has increased 12 points in the last three years to a record 64.1 percent, but Gordon has stressed that much more improvement is needed.
Obama singled out CMSD in remarks after the White House meeting. He also looked forward to an appearance Wednesday before the City Club of Cleveland and an address involving "middle-class economics."
"If you look at what's going on in Cleveland -- where I'll be visiting (Wednesday) -- these are school districts that, despite enormous challenges -- have made real progress," he said.
The CEO has expressed opposition to a move by members of Congress to reallocate funding from what is known as Title I, a program that benefits disadvantaged students. The proposal would shift a portion of money from the nation's most impoverished districts and give it to more affluent areas.
The proposal surfaced during discussion of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Gordon said the president assured the leaders he would not support a bill that is bad for urban students.
CMSD could lose $14 million, or 25 percent, of its $55 million annual Title I share. The District spends the money for a variety of purposes, including paying teachers' salaries and operating Project ACT, which aids homeless students.
“It is true that all of Ohio’s school districts serve children living in poverty. This is a problem facing our entire nation,” Gordon said last month after the proposal went to the House floor.
“But Ohio’s large urban districts continue to serve the largest percentage of these young men and women, with a combined 86.5 percent of the children in The Ohio Eight (a coalition of Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) qualifying for free or reduced lunch, compared with just 48.5 percent statewide."
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 54 percent of Cleveland’s school-age children live in poverty, second highest among the country’s largest cities. Gordon has encouraged parents and others to call legislators and oppose changes in Title I.
The CEO and the District have continued to draw attention as CMSD carries out The Cleveland Plan, a customized set of sweeping reforms for education in the city.
In December, the CEO was part of a panel at a White House summit on early childhood education. Obama has praised PRE4CLE, a network pairing CMSD and private providers in an effort to make high-quality preschool available to as many of the city's 3- and 4-year-olds as possible.
Earlier this month, Gordon spoke in San Francisco at the Carnegie Foundation’s Summit on Improvement in Education.
He was on a panel that discussed “Leading the Transformation of Large Complex Systems.”