Youngstown City Schools will graduate an entire class of students this spring that never attended a functional educational institution.
The district received the first F on its state report card in 2003-2004 — when students in the class of 2016 were having their pictures taken by their parents as they stepped onto the bus to attend their first day of kindergarten.
This week they return to begin their senior year and the school district is still receiving Fs.
Nearly half of the students have achievement levels below proficient. Four-year graduation rates are below 70 percent. Five-year graduation rates are only marginally higher. Over half the students that do graduate and go on to attend college require developmental math or reading classes.
This is unacceptable. The city schools are sending an entire generation of students into the world without the skills and knowledge they need to participate in society.
The city and state can’t be accused of sitting idly, but efforts from lawmakers have not been enough. Governor Ted Strickland formed the Academic Distress Commission in 2007, and the commission took control of the district in 2010. Five years later, there hasn’t been much progress.
The city has experimented with charter schools and school choice, but the charters are performing just as abysmally as the public schools, and the ability to choose between failing schools doesn’t help anyone.
Until the Business Cabinet met in secret and rushed the Youngstown Plan through the state legislature, there was no sense of collective outrage in the community about the problem of our failing schools.
The cabinet should have involved the community in developing a plan that has such a major impact on one of its most vital institutions. Lawmakers should have been given time to read and discuss the amendment before being forced to vote on it.
But now Mayor McNally and state legislators are holding meetings with parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to determine what accommodations students in Youngstown need to be successful. People are showing up downtown to protest the plan. The district is pursuing legal action.
Say what you will about the decision to put a CEO in charge of the school district, it has people talking about an important issue.
As much talk as there has been about the city’s revitalization process, the city can’t be considered fully functional until its school system is functional.
Without good schools, the young professionals who are moving downtown to live and work are going to depart for the suburbs when they get married and decide to have children. The children of families who can’t afford houses in Canfield and Poland are going to continue to attend broken schools and live in increasingly concentrated poverty.
Something needs to be done. The Youngstown Plan might not be that something, but it is something.
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