9 Cities To Get N.S.F. Funds To Pursue Reforms

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The National Science Foundation last week announced the selection of nine of the nation's poorest cities to share $135 million in federal funding over the next five years to undertake "systemic'' reform of mathematics and science instruction.

Superintendents of the districts, federal policymakers, and N.S.F. officials launched the long-awaited Urban Systemic Initiative at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Luther Williams, the assistant chief of the N.S.F.'s human-resources directorate and a driving force behind the new program, said it is aimed at closing the gap in academic performance between students in affluent suburban districts and those in urban systems "where the nation's fabric is experiencing its most severe strain.''

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., whom Mr. Williams credited with encouraging development of the urban initiative and fighting for funding on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the program will help districts harness untapped resources to extend learning beyond the conventional boundaries of the school day.

"If the kids are learning in the street,'' she said, "let's change the nature of the street and let's change the nature of learning.''

Some of the cities that received the urban-initiative grants are in states that already are part of the N.S.F.'s three-year-old Statewide Systemic Initiative program.

The urban initiative is designed to complement the highly regarded statewide programs by focusing more resources in inner-city districts, officials said.

The new initiative is targeted at the 25 cities determined by the U.S. Census Bureau to have the greatest percentages of children living in poverty.

All 25 eligible cities already have received $100,000 N.S.F. planning grants to develop comprehensive reform strategies, which will later serve as applications for the urban-initiative awards.

The nine cities that will launch the initiative will each receive as much as $15 million over the next five years.

The initial award recipients--Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso, Miami, New York City, and Phoenix--will each receive $2 million in the first year of the program.

Focus on Technology

Like the statewide initiative, officials said, the urban program is designed to encourage flexibility in meeting reform goals as well as cooperation between the public school system, higher education, the business community, and political leaders in every city.

Officials in Baltimore, for example, propose to implement a new K-12 science, mathematics, and technology curriculum, launch a professional-development planthat will train a cadre of "lead teachers,'' change district policies to encourage systemwide change, and introduce an "efficacy model'' designed to demonstrate to teachers and students that minority children can learn challenging science and math.

The Dallas district, meanwhile, proposes a three-part reform effort that includes an emphasis on the tenets of Total Quality Management; a theme-based math, science, and technology curriculum; and "extensive'' use of technology in teaching that curriculum.

John Gibbons, the director of the White House office of science and technology policy, said the technology focus evident in several successful urban-initiative proposals reflects the realities of preparing students for the labor market of the future.

"We must prepare our children for a 21st-century workplace, by providing a 21st-century setting for that preparation,'' he said.

Contradictory Priorities Seen

Despite the upbeat reception it received here, the Urban Systemic Initiative, which has been more than a year in the making, has not been without critics.

Officials in Philadelphia, for example, have grumbled that the program has been plagued by false starts and contradictory priorities. (See Education Week, Dec. 15, 1993.)

Some Baltimore school officials argued privately at a meeting of reform-minded urban educators held in Inverness, Calif., this year that the N.S.F. has frequently ignored local concerns and disregarded local expertise in setting the direction of the initiative. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)

Mr. Williams noted that the N.S.F. will sign "cooperative agreements'' with officials in each city, which means that the foundation may cut off funding if programs fail to meet mutual reform goals.

In an unprecedented move, the N.S.F. recently ended a cooperative agreement with Rhode Island under the Statewide Systemic Initiative, citing "multiple deficiencies'' in its reform effort. (See Education Week, April 13, 1994.)

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