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Urban Schools' Open Letter to the Next President

From EdWeek reporter and guest blogger Dakarai I. Aarons:

The Council of the Great City Schools has joined the fray over the upcoming election.

The Washington-based organization that represents 66 of the nation’s largest urban school districts has written an open letter to the next American president, asking the nation’s next leader to commit to making American urban education the world’s best.

The council, which will hold its annual conference this week in Houston, gave the future president 10 areas to focus on. Michael D. Casserly, the council’s executive director, plans to discuss the letter during a Wednesday press conference. Veteran journalist Dan Rather will moderate a Friday panel during the council’s conference on education and the next president that will include Lisa Graham Keegan, senior education adviser to Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, and Pedro Noguera, one of the many education advisers to Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

Among the priorities in the letter are a national set of education standards that are globally competitive. A “positive tone” is also sought in discussing public education, because the council says urban schools are often singled out with “divisive and destructive rhetoric,” rather than constructive attempts to find solutions.

The council’s members are lobbying for changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act—a law the council supports—to include more funding and better research about what works to accompany the focus on accountability.

“No Child Left Behind was an important effort ... but it devolved into a poorly calibrated exercise in compliance with overly rigid and punitive measures that failed to take academic progress or growth into account and ultimately had little to do with raising achievement or narrowing achievement gaps,” the council's letter says.

Part of that funding should go to helping school districts attract and retain high-quality teachers to meet the goals of NCLB provisions that govern teacher quality, the council writes.
The letter also urges federal support for boosting early childhood education options, research on finding strategies to reduce high school dropout rates, and giving federal dollars to school districts to help replace “crumbling” school facilities.

A President McCain or Obama should also spend more federal dollars on educating poor students, English-language learners, and special education students, the council says. Urban schools tend to educate more of these students than their suburban peers, yet tend to have less funding with which to work with such high-need populations, the letter says.

The new president should also make U.S. Department of Education appointments that include educators with experience in urban school districts as well with ethnic and cultural diversity that reflects the changing demographics of many American schools. The letter goes on to say:

The Great City Schools are on record in support of raising student achievement, closing achievement gaps, and being accountable for results. We will continue to support these priorities, even when the challenges appear immense and success seems out of reach. We do so because we have seen these schools make progress and know that more is possible. It is vital that we succeed, given that our fortunes are tied inextricably with those of the nation and our urban children. We ask you, as the next president of the United States, to work with us to make urban public education the best in the world. Thank you and best wishes as you assume the mantle of leadership as the 44th president of the United States of America.
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