effective leaders are needed for schools to thrive, says outgoing ceo

Interim Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) CEO Peter Raskind, who is being replaced by Chief Academic Officer Eric Gordon, offered some parting thoughts on improving urban education at a forum last week on underperforming schools.

Introducing himself as “the lamest of lame ducks,” Raskind told the audience at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs that quality urban schools are critical to reducing inequality. Then he evaluated two concepts that are often mentioned by the left and right as single solutions to the woes of public education: more money and more competition.

“Will more money help? No, not alone,” he asserted. While the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) laid off hundreds of teachers and staff this year, Raskind does not believe more resources alone would improve performance.

On the subject of fostering competition, he stated that “some competition is helpful, and charter schools and other competitors have induced what I like to call a ‘positive discomfort’ among schools. At the end of the day, we do have to compete — yet alone, competition won’t solve our problems.”

The answer, Raskind said, is effective leadership. He cited Apple and General Motors as examples of two large companies that came back from the brink of destruction to flourish after being led by strong leaders.

Yet urban schools face a critical challenge in attracting good leaders because “leaders are drawn to environments where they can apply their talents to full effect, and repulsed by environments where they feel they’ll be stymied,” he said.

“How can we attract the best principals to our schools, when they don’t have control of who they’ll be able to hire?” Raskind asked the audience.

Raskind closed by drawing a comparison between urban schools and another industry that’s been in the news a lot lately. “Like the auto industry, urban schools are also in a long slow decline,” he said. “And labor and management are locked into complex, rigid agreements that don’t function well in today’s world.”

“Our customers are defecting to more nimble and attractive competitors, particularly charter schools,” he continued. “And like the auto industry, labor and management will go down together unless changes are made.”

Fresh Water Cleveland, 6/23/11

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