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The chronic low performance of the nation's urban school systems is one of the most challenging issues facing educators and policymakers today. Not only public authorities but also charitable foundations and businesses have poured their resources, ideas and talents into the task of improving urban schools. Despite these efforts, the future continues to appear bleak for many children in inner-city school districts across the country.

To be sure, urban schools over the past several decades have had to cope with extraordinary challenges. The students they serve are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as other children, more likely to have difficulty speaking English, less likely to live in a two-parent family, almost twice as likely to be assigned to special education, far more likely to drop out and more likely to move frequently, disrupting their schooling. In addition, urban schools are subject to deteriorating school buildings, inadequate teaching materials and technology, dwindling financial resources, and shortages of qualified and committed teachers, principals and support staff.

States and districts have created and implemented a variety of new, and sometimes radical, approaches to how urban districts are organized and managed. These efforts include initiatives to break urban systems into smaller units, to privatize district operations, to redesign and/or privatize the district's top management and to establish private-school voucher programs. States also are using a variety of funding mechanisms to help induce change and improvement in urban schools districts, including financial incentives, new accounting systems, support for restructuring, and increased support for Head Start and other school readiness programs. In addition, nearly half of the states have established accountability mechanisms that allow state officials to monitor more closely school district performance and to intervene directly in the operation of low-performing districts.

 

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