Response to Recent National Media Attention

Bona Verba from the Headmaster

Dear CLASSICAL Parents and Friends,

I am contacting you today regarding recent media coverage of Cincinnati Classical Academy.

On Wednesday afternoon, our school was featured in two media articles, one in The Cincinnati Enquirer and the other on The Washington Post’s education blog. These pieces were orchestrated by The Network for Public Education (NPE), a national anti-charter school group.

The articles focused on the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant recently awarded to CLASSICAL. This is a competitive grant that was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to 14 charter schools across the country to open, replicate, or expand charter schools. We applied for the federal grant on the strength of CLASSICAL’s incredible success, and we are proud of the fact that our application received the highest score of all awardees – the top score in the country.

That success, coupled by the fact that CLASSICAL is the first Hillsdale K-12 Member School to receive a CSP award, was enough to set off alarm bells for the NPE. The ensuing impetus for the Post and Enquirer articles was a letter sent by the NPE to Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, asking for our CSP grant, in the amount of $1.9 million spread over the next four academic years, to be rescinded.

The accusations levied against the school are not only unfounded and false but also an insult to every family with a child attending CLASSICAL. We stand by the substance of our CSP application and reject the numerous misrepresentations made by the NPE.

True Purposes of the Grant

First off, the NPE begins by grossly oversimplifying the purpose of the CSP grant as only serving to expand opportunities for children with disabilities, English language learners, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged, disregarding the actual criteria defined by USDOE at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

According to the grant description, the major purposes of the CSP are to:

expand opportunities for all students, particularly for children with disabilities, English learners, and other traditionally underserved students, to attend charter schools and meet challenging State academic standards; provide financial assistance for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of public charter schools; increase the number of high-quality charter schools available to students across the United States; evaluate the impact of charter schools on student achievement, families, and communities; share best practices between charter schools and other public schools; aid States in providing facilities support to charter schools; and support efforts to strengthen the charter school authorizing process.

The purpose of CLASSICAL’s application was to apply for funds to facilitate the development of a high-quality charter school option for students residing in southwestern Ohio. Clearly defined in the grant as a classical academy supported by the Hillsdale College K-12 Office and the Barney Charter School Initiative network of schools, the grant application states the mission of Cincinnati Classical Academy is “to develop the minds and nourish the hearts of our students through a content-rich curriculum in the classical liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in moral character and civic virtue.” The model is described in detail throughout the grant, with no attempt to “mislead” the grant reviewers as to the model and the mission of Cincinnati Classical Academy or its support from the Hillsdale College K-12 Education network.

Equal Opportunity for All

The letter also questioned the location of the school in Reading, local demographics, and the “lack of a plan to address” traditionally underserved students. CLASSICAL is a public community school operating within the “challenged” urban area of Hamilton County, drawing in 2022-23 from “52 different zip codes (expanding to 60 in 2023-2024), 35 different school districts, and 6 counties throughout southwest Ohio.” Contrary to the NPE’s assertions, CLASSICAL offers tuition-free access to a classical education to any student and family who applies through the school’s state-mandated lottery system, regardless of demographics, socioeconomics, and family history. The classical model has not been an option to parents in the Hamilton County area previously, and thus addresses the grant goal of increasing the number of high-quality charter schools available to students in the area.

The NPE letter also faults us for—deceptively, it suggests—not disclosing our school demographics, when in fact, the application does not ask about school demographics; rather, several questions ask about equity and equitable participation in the school. Contrary to NPE’s assertions, the grant application did address questions related to equity. It specifically focused on equity in education within the Hamilton County community, outlining steps to overcome barriers to access. CLASSICAL’s commitment to equity was reiterated throughout the application, emphasizing our role in providing a tuition-free classical education option to students from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, the application detailed plans for recruitment and marketing efforts, non-discriminatory enrollment, community involvement, and transportation alternatives.

As we would expect the NPE education experts to understand, as a public community school in the state of Ohio, all residents of Ohio are eligible to enter into our admissions lottery. We do not discriminate in any way; we do not choose our students based on their economic, racial, language, or ethnic status – or by any other criteria apart from their residency status. And, most importantly, it should be understood that it would be unlawful for us – or for any public community school – to handpick students based on any criteria other than residence status.

For the record, 16.6% of our students qualify as economically disadvantaged and 10% are students with disabilities, and they are performing well above the state performance averages. We have proven that these students can close the achievement gap with our help – with a content-rich curriculum, great teachers, and a holistic classical education. Carol Burris and The Washington Post even highlight this. It is our aspiration to serve even greater numbers of disadvantaged students in this way. We believe that all students are capable of high achievement, and that is why the CSP grant will be so helpful.

As further evidence of hiding from diverse students, the Post says that “there is no mention of free lunch on the school’s webpage, which features catered lunches students can purchase in full or a la carte.” But the truth is that all CLASSICAL students who meet federal standards receive free or reduced lunch benefits. In 2022-23, 72 students qualified for and received this benefit. In addition, CLASSICAL provides financial assistance for qualifying families in the purchase of school uniforms and supplies – a benefit that extends well beyond the aid that we are accused of hiding. These benefits are explained on our FAQ page, but since the Post missed them, we will strive to make them clearer.

Geography, Cincinnati Public & Comparison Schools

The NPE letter also takes issue with the fact that we included demographic information for Cincinnati Public Schools, even though we are located temporarily in the Reading school district. What they fail to appreciate is that our campus is located less than a mile from Cincinnati Public Schools (2-star achievement) to the south and 1.4 miles from Lockland Local Schools (1-star achievement) to the west. Further, to the north it shares a border with Princeton City Schools, which until recently was a “challenged” district (now 3-star in achievement).

The school has advertised widely in these areas, by billboard and with informational meetings at public libraries. Thus, we do provide an option for a quality education to historically disadvantaged communities, in accordance with our stated goal.

As members of the CLASSICAL community are well aware, we do not yet know the permanent location for our K-12 campus. We are grateful to have been warmly received by the City of Reading and Reading schools, and we do not regret locating our school – at least for now – in this community. Our leased campus in Reading was intended to be temporary while the school investigates and secures a permanent location; accordingly, the lease is for the first two years of operation. Discussion of Cincinnati Public Schools demographics is hardly misleading or irrelevant, especially since we had 58 students from CPS last year in comparison to 32 from Reading.

The letter further complains that the 19 school comparisons listed in our application were not all in the CPS district. We never stated that they were, nor was it a requirement that the comparison schools be located in CPS. The 19 schools we included were selected based on proximity to our campus in Reading. Since score card data was limited for all schools, achievement scores for each of the 19 schools were provided, in addition to the larger Cincinnati Public School district. There was no intent to mislead reviewers. The schools selected are, in fact, within a five-mile radius of the school. Some of the schools included were high performing schools, so there was no intent or effort to “cherry pick” the comparisons to make our school appear better than it is.

Our Academic Record Speaks for Itself

Finally, the NPE’s charge that our test scores were inflated on the CSP application in order to boost our academic prowess is false. We accurately reported the preliminary data provided by the Ohio Department of Education that was available at the time of submission in July. The final official scores, now posted on ODE’s website and published in CLASSICAL’s 2022-23 Annual Report, show that the numbers presented in the CSP application actually underestimate the degree to which the school outperformed state averages. For five of nine scores reported, the gap between the school’s proficiency and the state average proficiency was even greater than reported in the application. For instance, the actual third grade reading proficiency was 92.5% for the school, compared to 62.3% for the state – a 30 point gap. The application reported 94% vs. 78%.

What’s Wrong With Virtues – and Time-Tested Methods?

Following the lead of the NPE letter, the Post also takes note that “the headmaster speaks of morals, virtue, and ‘old-fashioned’ methods,” as though this is anathema to public education. Well, we plead guilty! Families do send their children to CLASSICAL for our time-tested methods that include explicit phonics, sentence diagramming, classic children’s literature, Latin, Socratic dialogue, and more. And the school does emphasize moral character and civic virtue, as written in our mission statement. These were considered by the founding fathers as prerequisites for a self-governing Republic and are particularly appropriate for a public school funded by tax dollars to educate future citizens and civic leaders. In particular, the school emphasizes seven core virtues that, far from evidencing a Christian private school, were all espoused by philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato well before the advent of Christianity.

NPE also took issue with the fact that our belltower is topped with a cross, and they found a photo on our website showing that a crucifix was hanging (since removed) in the gymnasium about 40 feet above the floor. They did not acknowledge what we all know: that we are leasing our building from the (Catholic) Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Yes, the building was a former parish school and church. That does not mean that we are a religious school. It just means that we are leasing a property that formerly was used as a Catholic school.

Final Thoughts

We appreciate the ongoing support from our parents and community. The Washington Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer have kicked off our marketing campaign for enrollment this week, providing an opportunity for us to highlight the exceptional work and dedication of the CLASSICAL community. We have had calls from families interested in applying as a result! The facts are: We do serve disadvantaged students (17 percent of our current student body), non-white minority students (18%), and those with IEPs or suspected learning disabilities (20%). These students are thriving at Cincinnati Classical Academy.

What we did not know at the time of the application was the following, which we have since reported in our 2022-23 Annual Report: based on our scores, we scored #1 of all 259 public community schools in the state of Ohio in early literacy; we scored #1 of all 21 community schools in Hamilton county in overall achievement; we scored #4 of all 120 public community and district schools in Hamilton County in Early Literacy, and #3 of all 259 public community schools in overall achievement. This is likely what the anti-charter school groups and legislators who signed onto the NPE letter fear most: success!

Torches Up!
Michael Rose
Michael Rose - Headmaster

Mr. Michael Rose

Meet the Headmaster

Mr. Rose has taught various courses at Brown University, Cincinnati Moeller, and The Summit Country Day School. As a part of his degree work in education, Mr. Rose’s research interests included the Great Books curriculum, the Paideia teaching method, and the “effects of emerging digital technology on student reading, writing, and researching.” Read More