The Sanders Surprise

Eugene Sanders left the Cleveland school system.  No one knows why.

Just last summer he received a 3-year contract extension and expressed his intention to remain as CEO until 2016.   He appears to have been well supported by the mayor, the school board, the business and philanthropic communities, as well as by the parents of the 45,000 student system.  The media have been effusive in praise, and circumspect in criticism.

Still, he quit in mid year, without explanation.

It might fill an otherwise-quiet hour in the coffee shop to speculate on his reasoning, but only he really knows.  The Plain Dealer posits that his goals of a 90-percent graduation rate and a ranking as a premier system were overreach in light of the continuing struggle to get the graduation rate above 54 percent, low test scores, rampant absenteeism, and troubled finances.

Now we are left with the search for a new CEO, a new plan, and the same old problems.  There will be a grace period as everyone is eager for progress, and the union contract will have over two years to run.  Cleveland’s mayor has a 28-member advisory panel that will make recommendations to a search committee.

Presumably, the search committee will report to a hiring committee which will report to a job acceptance committee which will then report to a welcoming committee, which will report to the daily dress advisory committee…..  All of which points to the realization that the cumbersome process has all been tried and tired.  The same old bureaucratic morass and the few qualified candidates mean we will have more of the same, and nothing will change.

Underneath all of this lies an ugly and inescapable fact: We have failed, and are continuing to fail, thousands of students in the Cleveland School System.  Adding a new CEO will not fix the problem, and will not provide a pathway to the future for those children.  Most of them are capable of learning, and capable of being productive members of society, regardless of whatever background and circumstances they have to deal with.

We need revolutionary change, and that involves totally dismantling the socialist model of education that no longer works and replacing it with something new.  We have very little to lose.

I can hear the snapping of No. 2’s all over the school system by the mention of the word socialism in this context.  But, if one assumes the socialistic model encompasses state ownership and resource allocation then we’ve got it.  What we need to do is take it to its logical conclusion and allow for dispersed decision making and free association.  Now I hear the sound of necks snapping at the school board and the teachers’ union headquarters.  That implies putting decision making back in the hands of parents, and principals.

With the rise of the unions, real authority has moved to their headquarters, while responsibility still remains with the schools.  Nice work, if you can get it.  But, the real stakeholders – the parents, teachers, and students – are left out.

I don’t have a lot of experience with the Cleveland school system, but what I had was illuminating.  Rigid rules and stifling pay scales grind out the desire to achieve excellence on the part of teachers – though some strive mightily despite it all.  And, all of the extraneous baggage associated with public schools – court cases and laws and additional requirements – squeeze out innovation and ingenuity.

We know that it can be done, outside of that framework.  The efforts of Ted Ginn, John Zitzner, and Rich Clark show that dedicated visionaries with the support of the parent community can make a difference, and take disadvantaged children and turn them into students.  Yes, there will always be exceptions and young people that don’t belong in school – but you don’t build an organization structured around the deleterious exceptions.

Mayor Jackson is a man of quiet dignity and integrity.  He is the perfect candidate to make revolutionary change.  As a product of those same schools he knows what is possible, and he hungers for it.  So yes, it is time to get rid of the bureaucracy, the unions, and the encrusted habits of generations and try something totally new with private, parochial, charter, and who knows what other kinds of schools.

Herbert Spencer noted: “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”  It is time for us to use ours and take action to change not only the lives of the students in a broken system, but ours as well.  If this does not change, there will never be the kind of renaissance that we all desperately wish for Northeast Ohio.

Doug Magill is a former Vice President of Nestle’, a freelance writer, and a voice-over talent.  He lives in Solon.




  1. Well put.

    I would add the word “monopoly” to the list of what’s wrong and the word “competition” to the list of things that are needed in public education, which — of course — is what Doug Magill has implied. But for those who don’t hear implied things, here is my add-on: 1) the public school system has a monopoly on public funds for education. 2) education for the public will never be more successful until there is competition. 3)That means that the money the public pays for the product (education) must be a) available to more entities that can compete with the current public school system and b) the individual consumers (families with students) can CHOOSE which entity provides the product to them. Competition, by providing choice for consumers, drives the engine of change and the search for efficiency and the demand for better outcomes. Would Ford have ever painted cars anything other than black if Chevrolet hadn’t come out and offered consumers a choice of colors?

  2. i love it

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: