As the new school year begins, urban districts in the United States are serving a quarter of all public school students, 35 percent of poor students, and 43 percent of minority students. But a recent survey shows that most fourth-graders in these schools can’t read a simple children’s book, most eighth-graders can’t use math to solve a practical problem, and more than half of students in large cities can’t graduate from high school in the traditional four years. Many of those who do are ill-prepared for college or the workplace.
Tired of tinkering with the system, many educators are calling for more radical steps, such as charter or contract schools, or school voucher programs. Others caution that these approaches are irresponsible, threatening to strip already suffering districts of vital resources. The only consensus is that these systems, and a generation of students, are in serious trouble. the panelists will address the potential and the limitations of controversial reform measures.