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17 Cities Win N.S.F. Grants for Systemic Reforms

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WASHINGTON--The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.7 million in planning grants to 17 cities with large populations of poor students in the first phase of a new "urban systemic initiative.''

The program is designed to foster coordinated and comprehensive efforts to improve mathematics and science education in the 25 American cities with the largest percentages of school-age children living in poverty, as determined by the 1990 Census.

It is modeled on the N.S.F.'s highly regarded "state systemic initiative,'' which encourages state education departments, colleges and universities, and business and citizens' groups to work cooperatively for reform.

The urban initiative's $100,000 planning grants, awarded this month, are designed to help recipients draft comprehensive reform plans in preparation for submitting applications under the new grant program.

The plans are to examine such issues as school finance, governance, and the content of math, science, and technology programs.

"Our partners in this new program must understand that they must challenge the status quo,'' said Luther Williams, the N.S.F.'s assistant director for education and human resources.

Applicants must develop "benchmarks'' for their reform efforts, a plan for continuing evaluation of the initiative, and a cost-sharing plan.

To encourage interagency cooperation, the mayor and superintendent of schools in each city must both approve the reform plan.

Local Efforts Up and Running

Many urban officials have anticipated the initiative.

For example, Rebuild L.A., an organization that is developing outreach programs in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, held a citywide meeting last summer to bring together for the first time governmental and private agencies that offer formal and informal science programs.

Participating programs were listed in a new directory of science resources for the greater Los Angeles area, and the directors of the programs are expected to form the core of the group that will help develop the city's application for the N.S.F. grants.

Mr. Williams said that the urban program is aimed specifically at narrowing the wide disparities between the academic performance of urban students and their suburban counterparts in the areas of math, science and technology.

"When compared to other students,'' Mr. Williams said, "[urban students have] lower aspirations, score lower on achievement tests, register for less-demanding courses, and [are] less prepared for higher education, employment, and informed citizenship in a technologically sophisticated world.''

The planning grants were funded with money earmarked for the urban initiative in the N.S.F.'s fiscal 1993 budget for the education and human-resources directorate, and fiscal 1994 appropriations bills currently pending would provide an additional $20 million.

The cities selected for the first round of implementation grants would each be eligible to receive as much as $15 million over five years to support their reform plans, with $2 million of that amount awarded in the program's first year.

Mr. Williams said the N.S.F. plans to award eight implementation grants in the current fiscal year.

The cities that received planning grants are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, and Fresno, Calif.

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