The myriad issues faced by the nation's cities are overflowing into their schools. Poverty, crime, lack of support, and an outdated and deteriorating infrastructure are among the dilemmas urban schools share with their host cities.
However, the additional resources required to effectively combat a city's specialized concerns often are lacking in urban schools-forcing individual districts to address challenges in their own unique ways.
Anatomy of an urban school
More than 11 million of the 46 million children enrolled in America's public schools-about 24 percent-attend school in an urban district. Approximately 575 of the country's school districts are considered to be predominantly urban.
Among the characteristics shared by urban schools include large class sizes, social and disciplinary problems, a large percentage of poor and minority children, and little involvement from parents compared to their suburban counterparts.
One of the most challenging issues plaguing urban schools is a rapidly deteriorating and aging education infrastructure. Although the poor condition of school buildings is not unique to urban districts, the magnitude and severity of the problem typically is. It is estimated that urban districts need about $50 billion just to repair their crumbling school facilities.
For example, the newest school in Waterloo Community School District, Iowa, is more than 30 years old. A recent attempt by the 11,000-student urban district to pass a $49.8 million bond issue for school construction and repair-its first since the 1960s-failed earlier this year. Waterloo did, however, pass a major maintenance levy two years ago, providing much-needed funding for school-building upkeep. It was the district's first show of support for school infrastructure in decades.
"We're making inroads," says Arlis Swartzendruber, superintendent of Waterloo. "The difference in an urban-school setting is a lack of having education as a high priority [in the community], even for their own children-there are so many other concerns in their lives. My previous experience in a suburban setting was far different because education was already at a high-priority level and had a lot of [parental] involvement."
The district does plan to revise and revisit the issue of school construction and repair in the near future.