Big city students make gains in math and science, report says

June 28, 2001

Eight years ago, the National Science Foundation (NSF) undertook a bold initiative to encourage and invest in system-wide reform of K12 mathematics and science education in some of the most disadvantaged urban school systems. Students in these systems were performing poorly in mathematics and science, with wide gaps evident between minority and majority students. NSF introduced Urban Systemic Initiatives (USI) to enable cities to implement wide-ranging reforms through standards-based curricula, professional development for teachers, and accountability for achievement through data collection and assessment.

Now, an external evaluation team reports some dramatic payoffs to these investments.

Academic Excellence for All Urban Students, a summary report on urban programs making up NSF's Urban Systemic Initiatives (USI), shows that students in the majority of the 22 cities where school systems undertook reform efforts are making progress in several areas.

The report is part of a larger, ongoing NSF-funded evaluative study by Systemic Research, Inc. The study has found that in most of the USI cities, students are taking more math and science courses and increasing achievement levels, demonstrated through various assessment tools. Minority students, meanwhile, are making even greater gains in enrollments and performance, reducing the "achievement gap" between themselves and majority students.

"These results are encouraging because they show that all students, no matter what their backgrounds or surroundings, can tackle challenging mathematics and science courses," Rita Colwell, NSF director, said. "These preliminary indicators give insights into what can happen when school systems use investments wisely to support system-wide policies for learning, to develop capabilities of teachers, and to connect with the community through partnerships. Great returns on those investments are possible when all of the pieces fit together."

The findings of the report are accompanied by approximately 800 pages of data summaries that the study's principal investigators developed into a set of "urban school key indicators of science and mathematics education. " Published on a CD ROM, the study data, which cover USI cities' participation through 1999, will be updated in August for the 2000-2001 academic year.

"This is not a complete analysis, but it is a good beginning for cities to gauge what can be done," said Judith Sunley, NSF's interim assistant director for education and human resources.

"It takes more than 12 years to educate a young person for high school graduation, so it is a long-term process to evaluate complete system-wide change. But we are noticing that the longest- running, most highly-invested-in urban systemic programs are making the greatest gains in math and science achievements."

NSF has invested heavily in Texas, for example, more than in any other state for a combination of statewide and urban system programs in math and science education. And because of the many partnership activities with universities and industry, the investment has had a major multiplier effect. According to Academic Excellence for All Urban Students, all of the urban programs in Texas have shown much improved assessment results in math and science at the eighth grade level. And in El Paso, there has been a dramatic reduction in the achievement gap between the largest minority group studied, Hispanics, and white students.

Sunley explained that the value of this report and of ongoing targeted studies is in the lessons these urban programs will provide as NSF continues to evolve its approaches to K-12 mathematics and science education.

"This is a story of school systems willing to do the work and take on the risks of change," she said. "The report indicates this is showing results."
Education Editors and reporters: Join in on an interactive Web news conference announcing study results from 1:00-3:00 p.m., Thursday, June 28 at:

NSF director Rita Colwell, former D.C. school superintendent Floretta McKenzie, school superintendents from Columbus, (Ohio), Chicago and Detroit, and Richard Schaar, senior vice president at Texas Instruments, Inc., discuss various aspects of the study and education system reform through their own experiences.

For more information on NSF urban system reform, see:

NSF is an independent federal agency which supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of about $4.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states, through grants to about 1,800 universities and institutions nationwide. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards.

Receive official NSF news electronically through the e-mail delivery system, NSFnews. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to In the body of the message, type "subscribe nsfnews" and then type your name. (Ex.: "subscribe nsfnews John Smith")

Receive NSF publications and reports through the email- and web-based alert service, Custom News. To subscribe, go to and click on "Custom News Service."

Program contact: Costello Brown

National Science Foundation

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