Progress in Urban Public Education

with Dr. Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools

According to The Nation’s Report Card, students in America’s urban public schools have made substantial improvements in reading and math.

Dr. Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools outlines the progress underway in city schools, as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Posted on:

March 31, 2020

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Students in the nation's largest city public school systems are making big gains much faster than the national average, but it's all happening against the odds. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Tetiana Anderson. Joining me to discuss the progress of urban public education is Dr. Michael Casserly. He is the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. Dr. Casserly, thank you for being here.

Casserly: Thank you.

Anderson: So you've got a pretty unique perspective on public education. You've worked in the field for over 40 years. What's changed most, would you say, during your tenure?

Casserly: Well, a lot of things have changed over four decades, and it would probably take the balance of the entire show to go through everything. But, honestly, some of the things that have changed and mattered the most has been the rise of the standards movement, of the data systems that people now use. The demographics of the school districts have changed appreciably. The federal government is much more involved than they used to be. In a lot of ways, things are better now than they used to be even though the debate over public education continues to be as contentious as ever.

Anderson: Certainly. You mentioned standards, and I know that testing shows that large city schools have really cut their reading and math gap with national schools, and it's been 50%, I think, almost 50%. How remarkable is that?

Casserly: It's really remarkable. Yeah, between 2003 and 2019, the big city school systems across the country have cut the gap between their performance and the performance of the nation on average by 50%. We still have a good way to go, but we are also serving the nation's poorest students, English-language learners, lots of students with very severe disabilities, and the like. So in many ways, we are at the cutting edge of providing students who need the education the most, the best education. We still have a ways to go, as I said, but it's really a remarkable achievement when you think about it, that urban public education has made the headway that it has.

Anderson: When you talk about large city public schools, there are districts that have had significant challenges. I think Detroit is among the ones that NAPE highlights in that area. What can you tell us about what happened to Detroit and where it was before NAPE and after?

Casserly: Well, NAPE was one of the instruments that really told us what Detroit was performing at, and it was one of the lowest-performing urban school districts in the country. But I have to say, with the new leadership that they've gotten over the last several years and the attention that they have paid to bearing down on the academic performance of the kids and improving instruction in the classroom, you are now seeing that school system beginning to move like you never saw it move before. And you could tell that same story with school districts like the District of Columbia here, like Chicago, like Boston, like San Diego, like Denver, like Miami, and other big city school districts that, 40 years ago, when I first started in this work, were often some of the lowest-performing public school systems in the nation. We haven't reached the promised land by any stretch of the imagination, but these are school districts on the move because they are paying attention to the academic performance of their kids, and you are now getting gains in reading and math and other subjects from students that a lot of people never expected that you were going to get this kind of performance from.

Anderson: And, quickly, what happens when a school isn't performing?

Casserly: It is one of the toughest things that we have to do. A lot of people have tried lots of different things from closing the school, reconstituting the school, changing out the staff of the school. But usually what's the most important thing is to bear down on the quality of what goes on in the classroom, and that means the quality of instruction, the quality of teaching. So providing additional professional development, additional support for teachers, and doing it in a much more intensive way. Sometimes this means extra hours that the kids have to go to school. But anything that actually boosts the quality of teaching in the classrooms, typically, that's at the heart of what the turnarounds are in many of these big city schools.

Anderson: Quick final thought. How bullish are you on the future of public education?

Casserly: I am entirely bullish. If I am sad at all about my work in public education over the last 40 years is that I don't have another 40 years to give. I am very optimistic because I think urban public education in this country really is the future of excellence that you're going to see in public education in the decades to come.

Anderson: Well, you've laid the groundwork for a lot of that excellence, so, Dr. Casserly, thank you for joining us.

Casserly: Thank you. More to go.

Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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