January 8, 1998

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Vol. 17, Issue 17
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If one school can succeed under the worst conditions, with the neediest children, how can others be permitted to fail?
Simply put, the problems confronting urban school districts are bigger, costlier, more numerous, and tougher to overcome than those facing most rural and suburban systems.
The numbers tell a sad and alarming story: Most 4th graders who live in U.S. cities can’t read and understand a simple children’s book, and most 8th graders can’t use arithmetic to solve a practical problem.
The biggest challenge facing U.S. cities and their school systems is concentrated poverty. In poor neighborhoods, the deck is stacked against children from the moment they are born. The odds are higher that they will have lower-than-normal birth weights, lack access to regular medical care, live in a household headed by a single mother, become a victim of crime, have a parent who never finished high school, become pregnant before reaching adulthood, and drop out of school.
Finding highly qualified teachers for the students who need them most is a difficult problem. Not enough college students want to teach in big cities, and few education schools focus on preparing teachers for urban classrooms.
Parents want their children to go to school in a place where they will be safe, and where the environment is focused on teaching and learning. Many such schools exist in our big cities. But not enough.
Given the compelling need of so many city students and the push to hold schools more accountable for achievement, some argue that urban schools deserve a greater share of public resources. That argument has yet to persuade many policymakers.
In too many city school systems, adult interests come first and students’ second.
The city's vaunted downtown renaissance has yet to touch its public schools, and local and state leaders have turned to drastic measures in efforts to reverse decades of failure.
No one says it's going to be easy, but here are a dozen ideas that many educators and policymakers believe are the solutions that will help urban schools turn the corner.
At E.J. Scott Elementary in Houston, a relentless focus on student achievement and high standards has created what researchers say is a model of a successful urban school.
Last spring, school board members from a district in Massachusetts sat down for their monthly meeting. But this time, something was different. Amid the budget items, special projects, hiring issues, and other typical topics, students were on the agenda.
San Diego’s Hoover High wins plaudits for its innovative programs, but shows up on a list of the city’s low-performing schools--a revealing tale of the crisis in urban high schools.
State of the States 1998
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)

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