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In Parallel to National Effort, 45 Urban Chiefs To Set Education Goals

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Miami--Leaders of 45 of the nation's largest urban school districts meeting here last week agreed to formulate and publicize a set of goals in a process that they see as paralleling, as well as contributing to, the effort to establish national education goals.

The goal-setting process could mark a major step forward in cooperation among members of the Council of the Great City Schools, who traditionally have used the organization primarily for lobbying the Congress on issues of concern to urban school districts.

A management audit commissioned at last fall's annual meeting--the findings of which were announced here--advised the council to become more "proactive" and to take a stronger public advocacy role. The council decided to undergo the audit in light of the fact that its membership has doubled since 1980.

"We will trying to move much more aggressively" with such groups as the National Governors' Association and business organizations that are involved with education reform, said Samuel Husk, the council's executive director.

One thrust of the council's expanded role, Mr. Husk said, will be "to come up with our own 'wall chart,' maybe as early as this March," when the U.S. Education Department traditionally releases its chart listing educational indicators for the 50 states.

Although several urban leaders here expressed reservations about the accuracy and relevance of numerical goals and indexes, Mr. Husk indicated that the council's effort will rely heavily on such measures as class-participation rates.

"If we do a benchmark, asking, for instance, how many students are enrolled in Algebra II, then if we want our students to be prepared for college-level work, we would anticipate that that number would increase every year," Mr. Husk said.

The board of directors also voted to reactivate efforts to arrive at a common definition of dropouts for member districts, rather than to wait for the national effort in this area to be completed.

The council will publicize its goals and the progress that districts are making to reach those goals on an annual basis, Mr. Husk said.

The council's set of goals will parallel six of the seven areas agreed to by President Bush and the nation's governors at their September summit in Charlottesville, Va. It will not specifically address the functional literacy of adult Americans, although some of the recommended goals in the other six areas are expected to affect this issue.

In discussing the movement to formulate national goals, urban school leaders in Miami repeatedly expressed concerns that equity issues not take a back seat in the drive to improve the nation's schools.

The council's member districts educate a significant portion of the nation's poor and minority youths, and the leaders here indicated that they believe urban schools will need more resources to ensure that their students can attain the national goals.

Margo Fox, a school-board member in St. Paul, suggested that the council agree to meet certain educational goals, but only if they receive the resources needed to accomplish that task.

In addition to funding, she said, such resources could include staff training, access to facilities, and other support services.

The council's board of directors agreed to butress the national goal-setting effort with a legislative initiative that will attempt to focus more funding on students from low-income backgrounds.

The legislative package will propose both new programs and modifications to existing federal laws.

In addition, Mr. Husk said, it will contain provisions "to drive and stimulate the states to begin to redirect some of their resources to the kids in their cities."

Urban school officials "don't have the power bases in their states to get that kind of drive going," he said.

The council will also likely ask the governors to change their emphasis on preparing a competitive workforce from "training," as agreed to in Charlottesville, to "education."

"Training has the connotation of those repetitive things you learn for a specific task," Mr. Husk said. The workforce of the future, he said, "will need a much broader education."

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