Among the big-city school districts in Ohio, Toledo Public Schools performed better than most in the state's recent grading system. Considering how poorly many of the state's largest urban school districts are doing, TPS' record is encouraging and gratifying.
The district managed to meet just four of 23 indicators of achievement, which should remind everybody at TPS of the work still to be done. But four of 23 looks pretty good compared to the other big-city districts.
Two districts - Cleveland and Youngstown - went from bad to worse, joining Dayton in the state's lowest academic evaluation category of "academic emergency." Others like Akron and Cincinnati moved up from next to last in the education ratings or "academic watch" to "continuous improvement" in the state's 2004-2005 report cards.
TPS kept the same progress report of "continuous improvement" for two years. It is laudable in light of the unique challenges urban school districts often face from underachieving students, disciplinary problems, absenteeism, a disproportionate number of entry-level teachers, and a continual migration of students out of the system.
But four out of 23 indicators leaves no room for complacency in the region's largest school district. While it is certainly a positive development that TPS hasn't slipped back to the bad old days of lousy scores and impossible dreams, the challenge is a constant.
"They said the first time we did that it was luck," said Larry Sykes, president of the Toledo Board of Education. "But here we have done it again." Moreover, like that of other districts in the region and state, TPS' graduation rate also reflected continued improvement. Toledo graduated 6 percent more, or 76.6 percent of its students.
The fact remains that nearly a quarter of TPS students don't graduate and the district's rate is significantly below the statewide average of 85.9 percent for 2003-2004.
There's no debate that improving the odds of success for Toledo's 33,000 students is an arduous undertaking fraught with hurdles many smaller and less urban districts escape. But the inspiration to do better than before is all around TPS students.
In Lucas County, Maumee City Schools made it to the top category of excellent this year, joining Anthony Wayne and Ottawa Hills. In Putnam County, seven of nine districts are now ranked excellent while two are rated just below at effective.
In Ottawa County, Port Clinton City Schools and Danbury Local both rose from continuous improvement to an effective rating with what Port Clinton Superintendent Pat Adkins says is "curriculum alignment, plain and simple." He has joined many educators "teaching to the test" but with an emphasis on individualizing classroom experiences.
TPS was the first big-city district in the state to achieve the "continuous improvement" ranking when the state first adopted a system of assigning academic progress labels.
It can do its community proud again by becoming the first to move up to the next level.