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The Bright Spots of 2015 NAEP: Charlotte, Boston, and Cleveland

ERS would like to congratulate our district partners—Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Boston Public Schools, and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District—on their 2015 NAEP results. These three districts were bright spots in a year of lackluster results nationwide. Boston and Charlotte retained their places among the top urban districts in the nation, while Cleveland recorded among the largest district gains.

A common denominator across these districts is a strong vision for improving education for all students and consistent focus on that vision. Each district has made fundamental changes to systems and structures to improve support and flexibility for schools to meet the needs of their students.


CMS, led by Superintendent Ann Clark, ranked first among urban districts in average math scores on NAEP, second in 4th grade reading and third in 8th grade reading. Despite two superintendent transitions over the last four years, Charlotte has sought to maintain a focus on continuous improvement. Keys to success include:

  • Deliberate focus on the turnaround of its highest-need schools, with deep community engagement and the investment of outside partners
  • Initial implementation of teacher leadership roles to better attract, retain, and deploy top talent
  • Commitment to the adoption and use of more rigorous content standards


Boston ranked second to Charlotte in 8th grade math and was among the top five districts in reading. BPS has benefited from over a decade of high Massachusetts academic standards and, like Charlotte, has a history of investing deeply in supporting teacher teams in evolving instructional practice by looking at student work. New Superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang hopes to build on the district’s successes and accelerate change in areas that are lagging. Keys to success include:

  • Aggressively supporting turnaround efforts in the lowest-performing schools
  • Increasing school autonomy, first through pilot and turnaround schools, and more recently by giving schools more flexibility in hiring the staff that best meets their needs
  • Extending time in struggling schools and just this year, across the district
  • Engaging school leaders and teachers in redesigning the central office to better serve schools


In 2013, Cleveland ranked near the bottom of urban districts. While CMSD still has a long way to go, scores improved in all four categories, and Cleveland’s gains are “uniformly larger and better than any other school district in the country,” according to Michael Casserly, Executive Director of the Council of The Great City Schools. The transformation in Cleveland, lead by Superintendent Eric Gordon and his team, is more recent than in Charlotte or Boston, but employs some similar approaches. Keys to success include:

  • Increasing school-level control over school budgets and supporting school leaders to use this flexibility to target time and attention to meet student needs
  • Increasing school-level flexibility to hire the staff that best meets their needs
  • Providing for teacher teams to collaborate around data and instruction
  • Focusing on social and emotional support and learning across the district

We applaud the students, teachers, and leaders in these three districts for their courage and commitment to doing what it takes to make every school succeed for every student.

ERS is committed to supporting district leaders in this difficult work. Visit our School System 20/20 website for the tools and resources we have developed to help.



The Bright Spots of 2015 NAEP: Charlotte, Boston, and Cleveland
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