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Education Reporter

City Schools Fail to Beat Odds 
WASHINGTON, DC - The Council of the Great City Schools announced in March the results of its third annual Beating the Odds study. While the report shows overall gains in some areas, a majority of students performed at below proficient levels in reading and mathematics despite increases in per-pupil spending and reductions in class sizes. The Washington Times reported (4-23-03) that Beating the Odds III found, for example, that slightly more than half of first-graders in the District of Columbia tested as proficient in reading and mathematics in 2002, but the number drops steadily in the later grades. The District spends $9,650 per child and averages only 13.5 students per teacher.

Among Beating the Odds III's other findings:

  • Despite new gains on state assessments, urban reading scores remain below state and national averages.

  • The current average per-pupil expenditure in the Great City Schools was $6,835 for the 1999 fiscal year (the most recent year federal data available), up 12.9% from $6,055 in 1995-96.

  • In many districts, reading achievement drops dramatically in the upper grades. By sixth grade, less than 30% of students test as proficient in reading, and by 11th grade, only 15% of students test as proficient.

  • While the gaps in reading and mathematics achievement between white and minority students narrowed slightly, they remain significant in virtually all the urban districts evaluated by the Council of the Great City Schools.

President Bush's chief reading advisor, G. Reid Lyon, told the Washington Times that student illiteracy in the later grades is due primarily to "a 'flawed' word-memorization reading method called 'whole language' or 'sight reading' used in many schools." He pointed out that research has demonstrated that the ability to read "takes good power in phonemic awareness and phonics. Those two are absolutely non-negotiable. You can't learn to read without them," he said.

Founded in 1956 and incorporated in 1961, the Council of the Great City Schools is a coalition of 60 of the nation's largest urban public school systems. Its stated mission is to improve urban public education through legislation, research, media relations, instruction, management, technology, and special projects.

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