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New Study of Excellent Public Schools in Ohio

Release date: 11/14/2012

“We want to express our appreciation to the Ohio Business Roundtable for leading this effort and praise the schools featured in the study for helping students overcome barriers and achieve academic success,” said Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers. “These schools show that while there are many challenges, all schools can be successful.”

The study looked at three elementary schools, three middle/junior high schools, and three high schools. The schools were identified by the Ohio Department of Education as among the highest performing high needs schools in the state in terms of student outcomes. Each school had a student poverty level above 50 percent. It was sponsored by the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio State University, and the Ohio Business Roundtable, and paid for using Race to the Top assessment funds.

Schools studied include: East Garfield Elementary School in Steubenville, Eastmoor Academy in Columbus, Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati, Northwest High School in McDermott, River Valley Middle School in Bidwell, Citizens Academy in Cleveland, Hannah J. Ashton Middle School in Reynoldsburg, Grove Patterson Academy Elementary School in Toledo, and MC^2 STEM High School in Cleveland.

Dr. Carolin Hagelskamp, vice president and director of research at Public Agenda, directed the research, which showed among other major findings:

• Constituents of the schools reported all of the same problems often cited as barriers to providing good education, but rather than seeing them as barriers, saw them as challenges to be overcome. Each school ran on the principle of “failure is not an option.”

• Strong leadership is a distinguishing feature of each of the schools studied. Constituents of the schools, including parents, teachers, community leaders and students themselves cited a litany of strong leadership characteristics in their principals.

Methodology included extensive interviewing at each school. “Many people often cite problems to excuse student failure, things like not enough money, indifferent parents, kids arriving at school not ready to learn, and bureaucracy resulting from state rules and union contracts,’ Hagelskamp said. “We found these schools were not somehow escaping these influences; instead, each of these schools has established a culture that says ‘No matter what the problems, we still won’t allow failure.’”

Leadership emerged as a major factor. Hagelskamp said, “All nine principals were praised for characteristics that included high expectations, leading by example of high dedication, connecting on a personal level to students and parents, maintaining school wide discipline, using data to track progress and measure results, and granting autonomy to staff in return for commitment to results (Complete list at p. 11 of study report). It is noteworthy that these are characteristics of all great leadership, not just educational leadership.”

Alesia Gillison, principal of Eastmoor Academy, a Columbus high school that was one of the schools studied, said, “We, the staff, and parents have high expectations and we are believers that by working together our students can reach their full potential of being college and career ready. 132 of 140 of our graduates were accepted to college last year, and earned 3.7 million dollars in scholarship monies. This year our students have earned more than $800,000 in scholarships.”

Richard Stoff, president and CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable, said, “My members believe this study sends a message of hope and optimism that with the right commitment, we can make rapid progress in education. More importantly, it shows that leadership makes the difference, a principle well-understood in business. Leadership establishes culture at any institution, whether school or business, and we know that culture eats strategy for lunch every day of the week. We believe going forward that wide scale, high quality leadership training is the single best effort we can make as a state to improve our educational system,” Stoff concluded.

Dr. Herb Asher, special assistant to the President of The Ohio State University, said, “Any challenge is best met by first looking at who is doing the enterprise well. By focusing on these high performing schools, we learn both that we can be hopeful of progress, and that there are steps that can be followed to maximize our chances.”

The study will be forwarded to state policymakers and other organizations interested in education improvement.

Link to the Public Agenda website containing a link to the reporter http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/failure-is-not-an-option.