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BEATING THE ODDS: Urban Schools Make Progress Despite Budget Shortfalls

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"In CGCS districts, students are almost twice as likely to come from low-income families or to have English as a second language as the average school district,"

Despite budget shortfalls and difficulties surrounding the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, urban schools continue to make student achievement gains in the areas of math and reading, according to a recent survey. In its third annual report Beating the Odds III, theCouncil of Great City Schools (CGCS) found that 90 percent of its districts improved math scores and 83 percent improved reading scores in more than half the grades tested. Common to the most successful of the 59 school districts surveyed is an intensive program to teach reading and math to middle and high school students.

Almost all of the districts are making achievement gains despite the lack of adequate funding for their student populations. “In CGCS districts, students are almost twice as likely to come from low-income families or to have English as a second language as the average school district,” notes the report, yet about 40 percent of these districts have per-pupil expenditures below statewide averages. To achieve these gains, CGCS found that successful school districts focused on student achievement and specific achievement goals, with a set schedule and defined consequences. They also concentrated on improving the lowest-performing schools by providing additional resources and training for teachers and administrators. The report also notes other components employed in these schools.

Michael Casserly, Executive Director of CGCS and author of the report, said, “Urban schools are making the kind of progress demanded by [NCLB]. The data suggest that improvement is possible on a relatively large scale-not just school-by-school-and that it can be accomplished under even the most challenging circumstances.”

The data have been collected every year for the past three years from the school districts, which are located in 36 states. The results are broken down by city, year, and grade on each state test in mathematics and reading.

While the report makes “every effort to report achievement data in a way that was consistent with No Child Left Behind,” some of the data go back to before the law’s enactment. The report does not really address funding concerns, other than admitting that urban schools often lack adequate funding resources.

The complete report is available at: http://www.cgcs.org/reports/beat_the_oddsIII.html

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