Akron School Chief Talks Accountability, Performance, Year-Round and Charter Schools

Feb 23, 2016

Akron Superintendent David James say the rules for schools are unevenly enforced and constantly changing.
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU

David James, the head of Akron’s public schools, gave his annual update today on the state of the school district – and public education in Ohio. After his speech to nearly 400 people at the Akron Press Club,  WKSU’s M.L. Schultze talked with James about some of the key issues.

David James’ speech touched on collaboration, accountability, charter schools, at-risk kids and the constant churn of state laws and regulations that he – and even state lawmakers – blame for keeping public education in Ohio in disarray.

Year-round schools
For the second year in a row, James talked about year-round schools. And for the second year in a row, he said it makes sense.

“With College-Credit-Plus and with some of the other programs in career tech where they have internships, we’re just going to have to add more time, because there isn’t enough time in a typical school year to get some of this stuff done.”

Besides, he said, a year-round school more closely mirrors the real world.

"Until we have stable leadership at the Ohio Department of Education and get a Legislature that listens to common sense approaches, I don't know that that's going to change."

James says he’ll be working with his school board and teachers union to come up with a pilot program in a year or two.

Report cards
James noted that the state report cards were delayed again this year, and said they’re more confusing than ever – and little help in figuring out what schools are doing the best job.

“It’s too complicated I think for many people to understand what’s really going on.”

He said that’s why districts are talking about putting out their own reports. But there’s a bigger issue, James maintained, with constantly shifting metrics for school performance.

The latest shift, he said, came when the state adopted and then moved away from Common Core.

“We’ve been telling them (lawmakers) for years, figure out what you want to do and involve educators in the process. And I think that’s the biggest problem, when you don’t involve educators in the process.”

“Over the last three years, three different tests, keep changing … graduation requirements. It’s just making the teachers go crazy.”

“Until we have stable leadership at the Ohio Department of Education and get a Legislature that listens to common sense approaches, I don’t know that that’s going to change.”

Charter schools
James maintained that charter schools and traditional public schools continue to be held to different standards – and that lawmakers are already considering delaying new standards adopted late last year to address poor-performing charters.

“Millions and millions of taxpayer dollars are flowing to charters and some of them are lower performing than our traditional public schools.”

James rejected the argument that dropout-recovery charters deserve special exemptions because of the children they educate.

“We have our own dropout recovery program in our regular public schools.  (Charters) are given more flexibility in terms of rules and we aren’t. And we just think: Make them accountable so we’re held to the same standards across the board.”

Open enrollment
James acknowledged that Akron also loses students to neighboring suburban districts that perform better. But he said some students are transferring into the Akron district because of STEM and special education programs. And, James said, a few may be drawn by a guarantee by the LeBron James Family Foundation to ensure four-year college tuition scholarships for all Akron school children who meet certain benchmarks. James said the first group to qualify for the scholarships should graduate in five years.