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7 Cities To Share $105 Million in Science Grants

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By Gregory Byrne

The National Science Foundation has awarded $105 million in grants to seven cities to overhaul the way schools teach science, mathematics, and technology.

The grants, announced last week at a news conference here, are the second to be made under the two-year-old Urban Systemic Initiative.

The seven cities are Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Fresno, Calif.; Los Angeles; Memphis; New Orleans; and Philadelphia.

Each city will receive up to $15 million over five years, with an initial grant of about $2 million this year. The agency and each city will negotiate the exact amounts of the awards.

"This is truly a significant day for urban education," Superintendent Charles E. McCully of Fresno said at the news conference.

Together, n.s.f. officials said, the new awards will affect nearly 2.5 million students in grades K-12, most of whom are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

The program, a spin-off of the foundation's Statewide Systemic Initiative, aims to close the achievement gap between white and minority students in math and science and to increase the number of minority students who go on to careers in the sciences.

Cities that receive the money commit to revamping their curricula, classroom instruction, and governance to improve science and math education.

Twenty-five cities are eligible for the urban program, based on the number of school-age children who are living in poverty. Each of the 25 cities has received a $100,000 planning grant from the agency. Nine cities shared $135 million under the first round of grants. (See Education Week, May 18, 1994.)

The District of Columbia later received a $13.5 million grant.

Money Concerns

All seven school districts chosen last week have pledged to beef up their math and science offerings and implement a standards-based system based on available national models.

Beyond that, the districts plan a variety of efforts. Officials in Columbus, for example, are planning a professional-development academy to improve science and math teaching.

"Kids love math and science," Superintendent Lawrence Mixon said. "We know that high levels of achievement in math, science, and technology are not related to innate ability, but to the value systems of the people to whom they are entrusted."

In Cleveland, Superintendent Sammie Campbell Parrish said too many students had been taking remedial or consumer math. The district now requires algebra for high school graduation and plans to increase community involvement and provide more professional development for teachers and administrators.

In Los Angeles, 48 percent of students have limited English proficiency. These students have been taught each of their subjects by English-as-a-second-language teachers, "even if, to be frank, they weren't qualified to teach it," said Superintendent Sid Thompson. The N.S.F. money will go toward developing math and science classes in students' native languages and toward recruiting bilingual teachers from among prospective math and science majors.

In Fresno, the initiative will complement an ongoing effort to establish technology-rich family-resource centers in every school to provide a range of health and social services.

As at so many gatherings in Washington these days, talk at the news conference turned to whether the new, Republican-controlled Congress would continue to supply funds for the program. Neal Lane, the N.S.F.'s director, said that the agency is committed to the projects but that funding depends on annual appropriations from Congress.

The N.S.F.'s budget request for fiscal 1996 is approximately $600 million, about what the agency received for the current fiscal year. Of that, $38 million goes for the urban program.

But the agency already has scaled back its new Rural Systemic Initiative, deciding for the time being to work only with the six coalitions that have received planning grants.

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