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In Cleveland burbs, Lone Ranger takes on public schools

And fails. A few years ago I became an accidental education reformer, and learned that my Lone Ranger approach to change doesn't work so well. Inertia besets schools, but also individual parents. It takes a community to reform schools.

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Fast forward several years and tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of tuition has continued to climb, rising three times more than the median income over the past 20 years. Everyone agrees we need to do something to lower the cost of a four-year degree. It turns out there’s already a solution to lower the cost by 25 percent. And almost no one’s interested. Including my kids.

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On to college. A three-year degree?

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, more universities are offering three-year bachelor degree programs, but almost no students are enrolling. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro enrolled five students last year – out of an enrollment of 17,500. Bates College in Maine has offered three-year degrees since the 1960s and has graduated 36 students in the past 12 years.

It’s tough to compete against summer vacation, that completely unnecessary 10-week break we’ve institutionalized as if it were written into the Constitution. We have summer vacation because we’ve always had summer vacation. Or at least since the mid 1800s when school reformers created a national compromise between urban schools that went year round and rural schools that were off in spring for planting and in fall for harvest. Colleges adopted the same compromise schedule. Not very helpful for farmers, but it caught on. And it won’t let go.

The truth is, there’s enough inertia in education to go around. Most parents blame the schools when things don’t change. But if I’m honest, I don’t really want my kids to go to school year round. I like the status quo even though in many ways it’s not defensible.

To reform schools, we first have to reform ourselves. We have to break our habits and re-examine the things we do reflexively. And we have to encourage others to do the same.

That was my big mistake with the same-sex schools proposal. I resorted to the Lone Ranger approach I almost always employ. I didn’t engage others in the community. I didn’t encourage discussion. And standing alone, my proposal died. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to change a school.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.

Editor's note: An earlier version misidentified the school district. It was Cleveland Heights.


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