Educational Progress

Cities Mobilize to Improve Their Schools

by Paul T. Hill, Arthur E. Wise, Leslie Shapiro

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Most big-city school systems are in trouble, but some are on the road to improvement. This report describes how six communities (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Memphis, Miami, Pittsburgh, and San Diego) got started, defines what they still need to do, and suggests ways others might take advantage of their experience. To determine how improvement was begun and sustained, the project examined (1) typical precursor events (e.g., the hiring of a new superintendent or the settlement of lawsuits or labor disputes); (2) sources of initiative; (3) leadership strategies and decisionmaking processes; (4) roles of particular people and organizations, including the school board, superintendent, teachers' and other unions, business, civil organizations, and local political leaders; and (5) the importance and sources of new funds. The study's most important finding is that an urban school system can be improved only if the entire community unites on its behalf; the problems are too severe and intertwined — and entangled with broader community social and economic issues — to be solved by the educational bureaucracy alone.

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