Urban School Superintendents Form Coalition to Share Innovations and Tackle Obstacles
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The superintendents of some of the nation's largest urban school districts, which collectively enroll millions of students, have formed a national coalition to share strategies for improving mathematics and science education under the aegis of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The coalition's formation was announced in Washington D.C. at a meeting of officials in whose districts NSF supports reform. It exists to allow districts to "share notes" about reform, according to Luther S. Williams, who heads NSF's education and human resources directorate.
"I want to help create a mechanism by which Detroit, for example, can benefit from what is going on in more than 20 similar cities across the country," he said.
Williams noted that such cooperation among urban districts is rare. But he stressed that revitalizing urban schooling is key to successfully modernizing the nation's educational system because urban districts enroll roughly half of all U.S. public school students.
The coalition members have agreed on a common four-point agenda. With support from NSF and other districts, each will:
Each of the coalition superintendents heads a district that has received NSF funding, either as part of NSF's Urban Systemic Initiatives (USI) program or its Comprehensive Partnerships for Mathematics and Science Achievement (CPMSA) program.
Eligibility for the USI program is limited to the cities with the largest number of school-age children (ages 5 to 17) living in poverty, as determined by the 1990 census. USI is designed to spur local officials and the public to undertake a comprehensive and sustained reform of their entire approach to education--from curriculum to class scheduling to teacher professional development--by first overhauling math and science teaching. CPMSA has similar goals for smaller school districts.
The 37 districts in the USI and CPMSA programs collectively enroll more than 5 million students and employ roughly 160,000 teachers.
As a condition of NSF funding, each of the districts has signed a "cooperative agreement" that commits them to meeting specific reform goals over the period of several years. Failing to meet those goals can mean the loss of NSF funding. Williams noted that although many districts in both programs have made significant improvements in math and science teaching, the results have not been uniform because urban districts historically have operated in isolation from one another.
The coalition is a grassroots effort of the districts themselves and Williams said NSF will not set an agenda for the group. But he added that NSF hopes to encourage the coalition to adopt such conventions as a shared, compatible computer platform so that school administrators can use a national telecommunications network to exchange innovations and discuss common problems.
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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