Despite underfunding and the challenges of recruiting qualified teachers in key subject areas, urban schools continue to make gains, according to George H. Thompson III, this year's chairman of the Council of the Great City Schools' board of directors. Included: Information on gains made by urban schools.
For 50 years, the Council of Great City Schools has been an advocate for urban students, and this year's chairman of the board of directors, George H. Thompson III, is eager to lead the council into its next half century.
A long-time member of the council, Thompson also is a member and former chairman of the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education in Tennessee. He practices law in Nashville.
Thompson spoke with Education World about the goals for his term and the experiences that led to his interest in urban education issues.
Education World: What are your goals as chairman of the board of the Council of the Great City Schools, as it marks its 50th anniversary?
|George H. Thompson III|
George H. Thompson III: The council is the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of America's urban public schools. As chairman, I want to continue ensuring that the council remains an innovative, aggressive, and outspoken advocate for urban schoolchildren through legislation, research, and media relations.
In 50 years, the council has grown from an organization with 12 districts to a membership consisting of 66 big-city school systems across the nation. The council must continue to be a voice for these districts as they work to educate all urban school students to the highest academic standards.
EW: How did you become interested in urban education issues?
Thompson: The genesis of my interest stems from going to segregated public schools in Nashville, Tennessee, and training to be a teacher at historically black Tennessee State University. African Americans had limited career opportunities when I was growing up. Out of this environment, my education interest came into existence. After becoming a successful lawyer, I felt a need to give something back to help advance the education of inner-city schoolchildren and address urban education issues.
EW: What are the most pressing issues facing urban schools today?
Thompson: Closing the achievement gaps between students of different racial groups continues to be a challenge, not only for urban schools but for schools across the board. By far, improving academic achievement is an important issue, as well as reforming high schools and recruiting highly qualified teachers, particularly math, science, and special education teachers.
EW: Over the past five years, in which areas do you think urban schools have made the greatest gains? Where, if at all, have they suffered any setbacks?
Thompson: One of the areas urban schools are making gains is in improving the academic achievement in reading and mathematics. The council's Beating the Odds VI report, a city-by-city analysis of student performance, recently revealed that urban students' scores on state assessments in reading and math as well as on the more rigorous federal test -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) -- are rising, with urban students making the most gains in mathematics.
These gains can be directly attributed to the standards' movement taking place in urban districts. Educators know the public is holding them accountable and they are raising standards and improving instruction.
One of the biggest challenges facing urban schools is that they continue to be underfunded. Although students in urban schools are more likely to be students of color, English language learners, and eligible for a free or reduced price lunch, the schools they attend continue to lack adequate financial resources. Beating the Odds found that between 1999 and 2003 the share of all elementary and secondary school spending that states devoted to the nation's major city school systems decreased, although the demands and mandates placed on urban schools have increased.
EW: How, if at all, has the federal No Child Left Behind Act affected the administration and performance of urban schools?
Thompson: The council was one of the few education organizations in Washington to support the No Child Left Behind Act and we believe the federal law deserves credit for focusing the attention of urban schools more sharply on student achievement, and increasing the national focus on educating our neediest children. And positive test results, on both state assessments and the NAEP, show that urban schools are making progress and improving reading and math scores. No Child Left Behind is important in the efforts to continue this progress, and urban districts must continue effective practices that have brought about promising results: high standards, strong and stable leadership, better teaching, more instructional time, regular assessments, stronger accountability, extra resources, and efficient operations.
This e-interview with George E. Thompson III is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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