Sagging test scores, discipline problems, truancy, a lack of money. Though the list reads like today’s news, it also served ast the outline for The Plain Dealer’s 1979 series, “Cleveland’s Battered Schools.”

The stories ran alongside accounts of gasoline prices approaching $1 a gallon and arms talks with a still-intact Soviet Union.

Thirty years later, the school district’s broad challenges are unchanged, but poverty and the other underlying causes are far more severe.

Thus, it will be no surprise if skeptics question a “transformation plan” that district Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders is to release next month. What reason is there to think he will succeed where others have failed?

Sanders promises bold moves that will touch most students. His comments and consultants’ reports point to a mix of popular strategies that could include adding more “innovation” schools, closing dysfunctional or dilapidated schools, replacing all the principals and teachers in some buildings and turning buildings over to charter-school operators or other outside groups.

The Cleveland and George Gund foundations paid for studies that laid the groundwork for the plan. Ann Mullin, who handles Gund’s education policy, hopes for reform that gains national attention, not just “a new label on the same product.”

Whatever approach is taken, school board Chairwoman Denise Link says it will have to be backed by involvement from parents and volunteers.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said. “Most of our children need help from stable adults, whether they’re from their family or not from their family.”

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