School & District Management

Study Tracks What Works In Four Urban School Districts

By Linda Jacobson — September 11, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Agreement between school boards and superintendents over achievement goals, an emphasis on the lowest-performing students, and the adoption of districtwide curricula are among the most successful strategies being used in four urban school districts, concludes a report released last week.

“Foundations for Success: Case Studies of How Urban School Systems Improve Student Achievement” is available from the Council of the Great City Schools. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Over the past few years, the districts profiled in the report—the Houston Independent School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina, and the Chancellor’s District in New York City, a special 25,000-student district of low-performing schools—have improved test scores and narrowed achievement gaps between minority and white students.

Improvement in those districts, the study found, has also occurred at a faster rate than it has in their states overall.

“The reform efforts were driven by the concern that schools were failing their students—especially low-income and minority students—and that improving this pattern was the district’s most important priority,” according to the report, titled “Foundations for Success: Case Studies of How Urban School Systems Improve Student Achievement.” The Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based network of 57 urban districts, and the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., a nonprofit research organization in New York City, released the study.

The authors say they hope the experiences of the four districts can be used to identify promising practices that will help other districts facing troubles that are common in urban school systems.

To help raise scores, the districts in the report also focused their professional-development activities on the curricula being used and gave teachers access to data to help target students’ greatest weaknesses.

For example, in the 209,000-student Houston schools, teachers can use a Web-based system that gives them “snapshot” assessments of students. And in Sacramento, a district of roughly 52,000 students, reading assessments are conducted every six weeks so teachers can keep track of how students are progressing or where they need extra attention.

Common Obstacles

The researchers identified similar challenges faced by the districts in the study, including political conflict, inexperienced teachers, low expectations for students, high student mobility, and inefficient business operations that can make even meeting classrooms’ basic needs for books and supplies difficult.

“At times district business operations were managed by staff who had been promoted because of tenure in the district, rather than their particular qualifications,” the authors write. The four districts studied, however, have begun to overcome some of those problems.

The authors also examined practices in two anonymous urban districts for comparison.

Samuel C. Stringfield

They found, for example, that in each case-study district, the school board and the superintendent had a “stable and lengthy relationship.” In the comparison districts, on the other hand, there was frequent turnover of superintendents.

The case-study districts also implemented accountability measures that went beyond state requirements, put senior staff members on performance contracts tied to student achievement goals, and rewarded and recognized people in the district when goals were met. The comparison districts did not take such steps.

‘Very Logical’ Steps

While using a common curriculum throughout a district may appear to limit flexibility, the report suggests that approach is necessary to address the needs of students who often move between schools.

“What is wonderfully encouraging about this study is that they went out and found very logical things that can matter,” said Samuel C. Stringfield, a principal research scientist in the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a member of the Baltimore school board. “There is reason for sensible hope about improving the academic achievement of urban school children.”

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Some Teachers Won't Get Vaccinated, Even With a Mandate. What Should Schools Do About It?
Vaccine requirements for teachers are gaining traction, but the logistics of upholding them are complicated.
9 min read
Illustration of a vaccine, medical equipment, a clock and a calendar with a date marked in red.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management A Vaccine for Kids Is Coming. 6 Tips for Administering the Shot in Your School
Start planning now, get help, and build enthusiasm. It's harder than it looks.
11 min read
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student at Topeka West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student, gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management Letter to the Editor School Mask Mandates: Pandemic, ‘Panicdemic,’ or Personal?
"A pandemic is based on facts. A 'panicdemic' is based on fears. Today, we have both," writes a professor.
1 min read
School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP