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NSF Says 'Deficiencies' Threaten Math-Science Grant in N.Y.C.

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The National Science Foundation has warned New York City public school officials that they must substantially alter a program to improve K-12 math, science, and technology education or risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding midway through the five-year effort.

In a midpoint review of the $15 million Urban Systemic Initiative, which included a site visit and evaluation, officials with the independent federal agency said that while improvements have been made, the New York project still shows "an array of programmatic deficiencies," and that progress "is inadequate to justify sustained support." The concerns were outlined in a letter from Luther S. Williams, the NSF's acting director of educational system reform, to Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew last month.

NSF officials declined to divulge specific problems with New York's program, pending a final decision about its future.

New York is not the first district that the NSF has accused of failing to satisfy the aims of its multimillion-dollar systemic reform efforts to improve mathematics, science, and technology education in some of the nation's poorest schools.

Two Scenarios

Although none of the participants has been dropped from the urban program so far, the NSF has been getting tough with participants in its other systemic reform programs, which target states, rural districts, and other jurisdictions. Since last fall, it has cut loose three states and the District of Columbia.

In the letter to Mr. Crew, the agency offers two scenarios for the future of the grant: One involves a significant restructuring of the initiative to meet criteria that the NSF outlined in its analysis; the other lays out a negotiated phaseout plan, thereby canceling the remaining $9 million in funding.

School officials have until June 30 to present their restructuring plan to the agency, which informs participants in July or August if their funding will continue.

Mr. Crew met with NSF officials last month to discuss a plan for addressing program problems.

New York City school officials, who have already set in motion changes in the program's leadership, are confident a restructuring plan can be negotiated and that funding will continue, said David Golub, a spokesman for the city's school board. If the NSF goes along with proposed modifications, agency officials would oversee the program for six months to ensure its progress. If progress proved unsatisfactory, however, the program could be halted during that time.

Although NSF officials said that they could not comment on the specifics, Eric Hamilton, a program director in the systemic initiative office, said that participants generally are evaluated each year and must meet explicit criteria to ensure continued funding.

"One of the most significant requirements for maintaining eligibility is that the site integrate all the various reform efforts in math and science education under a single rubric, for which USI is a defining force," Mr. Hamilton said. "If we go into a site and determine that the [urban initiative] is not critical to the success of their operation, that would be something to point out to the site, and we would attempt to rectify that."

In addition to questions about leadership, the NSF has asked New York City school officials to show how the urban initiative is critical to the city's overall efforts to boost standards in math and science for all students, Mr. Golub said.

New York was one of the first nine cities--along with Baltimore; Cincinnati; Chicago; Dade County (Miami), Fla.; Dallas; Detroit; El Paso, Texas; and Phoenix--to be named to the urban program in 1994. Eleven other sites have since been added.

In all, 59 grants have been awarded for the NSF's four systemic reform programs.

New York City planned to create math and science centers in 250 schools, which would provide leadership to its other 850 schools.

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