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9 City Districts Join Forces To Lobby for Urban Education

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Nine moderately sized city school districts are joining forces in an effort to shape federal policy related to urban education.

The coalition, the National Urban Reform Network, was expected to announce its formation this week.

The network, its leaders said, will attempt to shape a national urban-education agenda using advocacy techniques developed by groups that promote such interests as welfare rights and affordable housing.

Rather than simply lobbying for more federal spending, they said, the coalition will seek to guide members of Congress and federal administrators in targeting federal assistance.

"In the area of policy, you have to be in an active shaping role, or else,'' said William J. Slotnik, the executive director of the Boston-based Community Training and Assistance Center, "you are in a passive recipient role.'' The center, a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance on school reform and community development, spearheaded the effort to create the network.

The network was formed out of the belief that "the chance of having an impact with a unified message is much greater,'' Mr. Slotnik said.

The member districts are in Akron, Ohio; Albuquerque, N.M.; Des Moines; Indianapolis; Jackson, Miss.; Salt Lake City; Savannah, Ga.; and Long Beach and Sacramento, Calif.

District representatives held their first strategy meeting last week, at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.

"There is a gulf,'' Mr. Slotnik said, "between the realities that urban school districts are facing and what has come out of Washington in terms of a public-policy response over the past 20 years.''

"People who care about kids, ranging from parents to corporate leaders, are feeling that the needs of urban districts have not gotten a sufficient response nationally,'' he added.

Competitive Process

The districts were selected to join the coalition through a competitive process. All were required to demonstrate a dedication to systemwide school reform to improve student achievement, officials of the training center said, and the judges favored educators who blended innovative ideas with a long-term commitment to change.

The involvement of some larger urban districts was precluded, Mr. Slotnik said, because the coalition requires the direct involvement of each district's top officials, including its superintendent and principals, as well as corporate and government leaders, teachers, parents, and social-service providers.

Other districts may be allowed to join, he said, but "no one will come in without a substantial buy-in.''

In addition to seeking to shape federal policy, coalition members plan to swap ideas and disseminate them to other districts.

"We are interested in the possibility of getting together with other cities to share experiences and ideas for increasing student learning,'' said John W. Bennion, the superintendent of the Salt Lake City schools.

Carl A. Cohn, the superintendent of the Long Beach schools, said last week that he views membership in the coalition as an opportunity to provide his employees with staff development focused on school reform.

Part of Three-Year Effort

The training center established the network as part of a three-year effort, launched in June 1990, to help three districts implement systemwide reform and then to replicate the improvements elsewhere.

The three districts--Albuquerque, Jackson, and Camden, N.J.--were provided assistance in the areas of restructuring, establishing corporate partnerships, fostering collaboration between communities and schools, and increasing parent involvement.

The training center has received grants from several philanthropies, including the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Charles Stewart Mott, W.K. Kellogg, and Danforth foundations, to underwrite its activities, including the development of the reform network.

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