Urban Education

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City Views: Three new reports from the Council of the Great City Schools offer a mixed picture of administrative attitudes, funding, and other trends in America's urban schools.

One survey of 225 urban educational leaders found 85 percent of them "optimistic" or "somewhat optimistic" about the future of city schools in 1999-2000—slightly more than the 82 percent in 1997-98 and well above the 62 percent giving those responses in 1995-96.

"It shows that the people now on the job feel good about what they're doing and the job they're doing," said Sharon Lewis, the research director for the 57-member coalition of city school systems, based in Washington.

On the other hand, the average tenure for an urban superintendent was just two years and four months in 1999, six months shorter than in 1997. For women, the average was 11/2 years. Nationwide, the tenure of a district chief averages about seven years.

The frequent turnover at the top in many urban districts has often hindered efforts to improve schools. Ms. Lewis said there is no easy explanation for the declining tenure, though a council task force is studying the issue.

The salaries of superintendents of the council's member districts increased an average of 6 percent from 1997 to 1999, she noted.

The optimism shown by urban school leaders is tempered by stagnant spending. Between 1989 and 1996, per-pupil spending on children in the member districts rose just 1.8 percent when adjusted for inflation, to $6,095. Nationally, per-pupil funding rose 25 percent during that time, to $5,923.

Here are some other findings from the surveys:

  • Business leaders and foundations were rated as the most helpful at aiding school leaders in fulfilling their missions. Teachers' unions came in ninth of 17 groups, while the news media came in last, right behind Congress.
  • Academic achievement was the most pressing need in city schools. Recruiting teachers rose to second, its highest place since the survey began in 1993.
  • A 10-year snapshot found that enrollment in the city schools rose by 13.4 percent, to 6.6 million, between 1987-88 and 1997-98. The Clark County, Nev., schools grew the most, nearly doubling to 191,000 students during that period.

Some urban systems lost students. Enrollment in Dayton, Ohio, fell 15 percent, to 27,000, while the number of students in Newark, N.J., declined 13 percent, to 44,000.

Copies of the reports are available on the council's World Wide Web site at

—Robert C. Johnston [email protected]

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 9

Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Urban Education

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