70 Organizations Pledge 'Major Efforts' To Improve Schooling in Inner Cities
Washington--Representatives of more than 70 organizations met here last week in an unprecedented display of concern for urban education and formally committed themselves to working together to find solutions to the problems of big-city school districts.
Along with the 47 school districts that make up the Council of the Great City Schools, the wide range of business, labor, civic, philanthropic, and education groups represented here signed a statement pledging to work together to develop "major efforts" to improve urban education.
Billed as the "urban education summit," the meeting grew out of the work of the council's national urban-education task force. The task force, chaired by Joseph A. Fernandez, chancellor of the New York City public schools, was formed last year after the council adopted six goals for urban education modeled after the national goals supported by President Bush and the nation's governors. (See Education Week, May 30, 1990.)
Beginning last summer, the task force brought together representatives from national organizations to begin discussions of new educational approaches that would increase districts' ability to reach the goals.
The resulting document, "Strategies for Success," was released last week at the summit. It contains dozens of recommendations for change that would increase districts' likelihood of meeting the goals, along with descriptions of programs and activities already under way in each area.
Participants in the summit--including representatives of the National Alliance of Business, the aspira Association, the Children's Defense Fund, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators--noted that the gatheringmarked the first time such a diverse group of organizations had come together on behalf of inner-city schoolchildren.
'Pulling in Same Direction'
The conference-goers showed wide agreement that educational needs cannot be separated from children's social and health needs.
"For the first time, there's a commitment on the part of all of us to stop battling about turf and get to work," Mr. Fernandez said.
"We're all coalescing together and pulling in the same direction rather than against each other," Mr. Fernandez added.
But no one underestimated the size of the task facing the largest school districts as they attempt to meet the goals by the turn of the century.
"Writing the six goals was the easy part," said Keith B. Geiger, president of the National Education Association. "Reaching, or even beginning to reach them, is the difficult part."
The cloud of budget cuts and economic recession also hung over the gathering, as many speakers argued that substantial improvements cannot be made without increased resources.
But the example set by Seattle, Wash., seemed to offer the group some hope. After an education summit there convened by Mayor Norman Rice identified the city's educational needs and priorities, voters last November approved a $65-million tax levy over seven years to provide a wide range of social, health, and educational services.
Mayor Rice, a keynote speaker at last week's gathering, said a time limit on the levy was set because "we owe it to the voters to come back and say how well we've done."
Chancellor Fernandez, who is facing a critical budget shortfall in his city, said the approach taken by Seattle may be the only way for urban districts to succeed in persuading voters to provide more money.
"Right now, the attitude out there is that they are pumping money into urban districts and not getting anything out of it," the New York City chief said.
The Council of the Great City Schools now plans to create an advisory board to guide the efforts to reach the goals and report on districts' progress.
The council also plans to measure how much support it receives from the national groups that participated in the summit, including financial investments, support for specific programs, and political and legislative assistance.
Vol. 10, Issue 18, Page 5