Published Online: February 26, 1997

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Urban Schools Group To Unveil 'Marshall Plan' Next Month

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Hoping to ease the plight of big-city school systems, the Council of the Great City Schools plans to unveil an "Urban Education Marshall Plan" next month.

The council, a Washington-based advocacy group representing 48 of the nation's largest city districts, is holding details of its proposal close to the vest.

But Michael Casserly, the group's executive director, said last week that he hopes the plan will complement other national efforts to help urban schools.

"Some of it will be legislative, and some of it will be focused on other areas," Mr. Casserly said. "We are attempting to marshal as much assistance for urban education as we know how to do."

Ongoing national efforts aimed at aiding city schools include separate initiatives by the National Education Association and the Education Commission of the States.

The NEA plan emphasizes boosting literacy and child health, while the effort by the Denver-based ECS aims to design new organizational models for city school systems and to encourage states to adopt them.

This week, the Council of the Great City Schools signed on with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's planned conference in Chicago aimed at boosting the academic achievement of urban youths.

'National Defense Act'

Titled "Closing the Gap," the conference was slated to run Feb. 23-25 and was to feature U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, members of Congress, urban superintendents, university professors, and others. One of its goals was to produce a 10-point plan to improve student performance in the cities.

Discussing the conference with reporters last week, Mr. Jackson echoed the theme of the council's initiative.

He said the crumbling infrastructure of city schools showed they need their own Marshall Plan, referring to the American-led infusion of aid into Western and Southern Europe after World War II.

The effort took its name from U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

"We need a comprehensive national-defense act to deal with the education of our children," Mr. Jackson said during a Feb. 18 teleconference with reporters.

Mr. Jackson's comments were reminiscent of President Clinton's State of the Union Address last month, in which he also invoked themes of national security to underscore the need to put education at the top of his second-term agenda.

Meanwhile, the Council of the Great City Schools is planning to release plans of its new initiative at its annual legislative conference in Washington, which is scheduled for March 15-18.

In its latest newsletter, the council describes the proposal in broad terms as "a major offensive to advance urban education in America."

Past as Prologue?

Mr. Casserly declined to discuss specifics of the council's new plan or to draw comparisons between it and a measure the group pushed in 1990 known as the Urban Schools of America Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the legislation called for pumping $3 billion into big-city school districts.

"The bill for all intents and purposes didn't go anywhere," Mr. Casserly recalled in an interview last week. "I hope this one has more success."

The council has been working behind the scenes in recent months to lay the groundwork for a broad-based campaign to ease the plight of inner-city school systems.

Its chief partner in that effort, which has included ongoing discussions with Clinton administration officials and federal lawmakers of both parties, is the Institute for Educational Leadership, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

Mr. Casserly said the new initiative was unconnected to any proposed legislation that may come out of that undertaking.

He said the council had not yet lined up legislative sponsors or won support from the Clinton administration for the new idea, which he portrayed as a work in progress.

"To the extent that various groups throw their own ideas into the mix--liberal and conservative alike--we're very open," he said.

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