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Urban School Results Linked to Funding Woes

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The second in a planned series of progress reports on the nation's largest urban school districts gives them mixed grades on several academic measures, while stressing the effects of lagging financial support.

The districts' reading-achievement scores have remained essentially stagnant since the first such overview, published two years ago, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, which released the new report last week.

And while mathematics achievement-test scores rose at the high school level, they dipped in elementary and middle schools, according to the analysis of data from the 50 districts that belong to the nonprofit advocacy group.

The other findings offer a similar mix of good and bad news.

The report notes, for example, that urban districts have made progress in increasing parental involvement and developing multicultural and self-esteem programs. They have suffered setbacks, however, in their efforts to recruit minority teachers and keep black and Hispanic children in school.

Scarce Resources

A theme underlying many of the report's findings is that, in most areas of urban district operations, the challenges have grown but the resources have not kept pace. For example, such districts during the 1992-93 school year were saddled with $13.3 billion in deferred-maintenance needs.

The report contends that urban schools receive funding at a rate 8 percent below the national average.

Based primarily on data from the 1992-93 school year, the report attempts to track the districts' progress since the first such report, which was based on 1990-91 data and published in 1992. (See Education Week, Sept. 30, 1992.)

Several urban school officials interviewed last week welcomed the report, but both they and council officials cautioned that its findings are not applicable to all districts. They also noted that findings for individual districts, which report data differently, should not be compared.

The report focuses on the strides districts have made in reaching the "national urban-education goals," which were drawn up at a 1991 summit of urban educators. They closely mirror the national education goals adopted in 1990 and call for urban children to catch up with their suburban and rural peers.

Among the new report's findings for the two-year period studied:

  • The proportion of 1st graders in member districts who attended full-day kindergarten rose from 53 percent to 66 percent during the period. The proportion of central-city toddlers enrolled in preschools dropped significantly, however, with the children of poor immigrants being the least likely to participate.
  • Although overall dropout rates declined, nearly 78 percent of member districts lost larger percentages of African-American students each year studied, and more than 72 percent lost more of their Hispanic students.
  • Fewer high school students appear to be using drugs, while middle school students commit a disproportionate share of school weapons offenses.

Working With Numbers

Officials of the council's member districts noted that their districts serve a vastly disproportionate share of the neediest students. They enroll 21 percent of the nation's students from families on welfare and nearly 36 percent of limited-English-proficient students.

Over all, the enrollment of the member districts is 42.1 percent black, 27.9 percent Hispanic, 23.5 percent white, 6 percent Asian, and one-half percent Native American.

"It is startling to realize the low numbers of white students we have enrolled in many of our urban school districts," said Larry L. Zenke, the superintendent of the Duval County, Fla., district, which encompasses Jacksonville.

Unlike his 121,000-student district, which remains 60 percent white, most districts lack enough white students to achieve meaningful racial integration, he contended.

Some observers criticized the report as being inconsistent in its data gathering.

Donald R. Moore, the executive director of the Chicago school-reform group Designs for Change, noted, for example, that Chicago's four-year dropout rate appears about three times as high as New York City's, but only because the districts use different definitions and procedures in counting.

Copies of the "National Urban Education Goals: 1992-93 Indicators Report" are available from the council for $25, plus $5 for shipping and handling, by calling (202) 393 2427.

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