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  • Council of the Great City Schools   

    The Council of the Great City Schools (the ‘Council’ or CGCS), the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of urban public schools.  The Council is a coalition of 77 of the nation’s largest urban public-school districts, founded in 1956 and incorporated in 1961. The group was formed with 12 big-city school systems in a period in American history when the nation’s cities and public schools were undergoing substantial transition and no formal national organization existed that could address the challenges ahead.  The organization is guided by three broad goals: to educate all urban students to high standards; to lead, govern, and manage the nation’s urban schools efficiently and effectively; and to bolster public confidence in urban education. Since its founding, the Council has been a leading and trusted voice behind national efforts to improve public education. It now serves 8.2 million students across approximately 13,800 schools. The Council is governed by a Board of Directors that is composed of the superintendent and one board of education member from each member district.   


    The Council of the Great City Schools was formed in 1956 by Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps, who at the time was serving as president of the Chicago Board of Education. Initially created as an informal networking and study group of 12 urban school districts, the Council today is a prominent national research and policy organization. The Council informs the nation’s lawmakers, the media, and the public of the progress of and problems facing big-city schools through legislative advocacy, research and publications, conferences, and online resources.  

    The organization also helps to build capacity in urban education with programs to boost academic performance and narrow achievement and opportunity gaps; improve professional development and curriculum; and strengthen leadership, governance, and management. The Council accomplishes its mission by connecting urban school district personnel from coast to coast who work in similar contexts. Staff with responsibilities for curricula, research and testing, finance, operations, personnel, technology, legislation, communications, and other areas confer regularly under the Council’s auspices to share concerns and solutions and discuss what works in boosting achievement and managing operations.  

    In addition, joint efforts with other national organizations, corporations, and government policymakers extend the Council’s influence and effectiveness outside member school districts to the larger, interdependent world that will ultimately benefit from the contributions of today’s urban students.  

    Since the organization’s founding, geographic, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity has typified the Council’s membership. That diversity propels the coalition forward to ensure that all children receive an education that will enhance the quality of their lives in a society changing with phenomenal speed and equip them with the skills and knowledge to compete successfully in the world marketplace. The wellspring of accomplishments and innovations rising from the  

    U.S.’s biggest cities testifies to the resounding benefits of investment in the nation’s urban centers and public schools.  


    Throughout its history, the Council has played a vital role in American life. In 1969, during the education desegregation era, the Council helped initiate the original Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education and assisted its member schools with their court orders. In the late 1990s, when controversy emerged over who should run the nation’s big-city schools, the Council convened the first and only summit between mayors and urban school superintendents. In 2002, when the country needed to know if urban school systems were making progress, the Council initiated the Trial Urban District Assessment and identified the first city school districts to evaluate. When America needed to see its public schools running more efficiently, the Council developed the nation’s first automated performance management system with key performance indicators in 2004. As more of the nation’s schools enrolled English Language Learners (ELLs), the Council released the first major study in 2009 on why some systems made more progress with ELLs than others.   

    The Council published its groundbreaking report on the conditions of Black males in urban schools in “A Call for Change” in 2010. As part of this effort, 60-member school systems signed a pledge to improve education outcomes for boys and young men of color. The pledge was praised as “extraordinary” by President Barack Obama at a 2014 town hall meeting with superintendents and school board members.   

    In 2017, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the Council led a team of urban school leaders to Puerto Rico, assessing damaged school buildings and conducting repairs to reopen schools. In the wake of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida’s Broward County public schools, the Council passed a sweeping resolution urging immediate federal action against school shootings and a ban on the sale, purchase, possession, and use of assault weapons.   

    In 2019, the Council offered the Accelerating Board Capacity Institute at Harvard Business School, a first-of-its-kind professional development program for urban school superintendents and board members. The Council has a proven track record of providing tangible aid to schools and supporting innovative and ambitious solutions to the nation’s most pervasive and divisive issues to improve education for children in urban America.  


    The Council is united behind the central mission of America’s urban public schools—educating the most diverse student body to the highest academic standards and preparing them to contribute to the nation’s democracy and the global community. As the primary national institution responsible for weaving the strands of American society into a cohesive fabric, the leaders of the Great City Schools envision a future in which the nation cares for all children, expects their best, values their diversity, invests in their futures, and welcomes their participation in the American dream.  

    This vision becomes tangible and those ideals are put to the test in the Great City Schools. The ongoing work of the Council is built on the following values and commitments that are embraced both for and with students:  

    Leadership. The Council of the Great City Schools is the nation’s premier leader in urban public education.   

    Improvement. The Council and its members embrace continuous improvement in the instructional and non-instructional services provided by the membership and the organization.   

    Accountability. The Council seeks ways to demonstrate accountability for results and foster a culture of shared responsibility for the education of urban children.   

    Equity. The Council is a strong and outspoken voice for equity, equality, opportunity, and social justice.   

    High Expectations. The Council is unwavering in its demand for quality work from itself and its students.   

    Integrity. The organization is uncompromising in its veracity, consistency, and truthfulness in the pursuit of its mission—including the ability to self-critique.  


    The Council is overseen by a Board of Directors that is composed of the superintendent and one board of education member from each member district, making the Council the only national educational organization so constituted and the only one whose purpose and membership is solely urban. It elects a 24-member Executive Committee, which meets four times per year to discuss and determine policies for ratification by the full Board during its semi-annual meetings.  The Board is led by four officers—the Chair, Chair-Elect, Secretary/Treasurer, and immediate past Chair; the Chair serves as chief communicator to the Executive Director.   

    In addition to these governing bodies, the Board has established five special task forces to address major issues facing the membership, and a network of deans of the Great City Colleges of Education and staff liaisons from various school district departments encourage information exchange with counterparts in other cities.   


    In late 2017, the leadership of the Council initiated a strategic planning process to guide the organization over the next five years. The process involved an extensive survey of the membership, an Executive Committee retreat, and a detailed analysis of organizational assets and liabilities by the group’s senior staff members. Based on the membership survey results, several critical needs and priorities were identified, including:  

    • Increasing the level of academic achievement throughout and across districts to ensurethat students are graduating college and career ready  
    • Turning around the lowest performing schools 
    • Closing achievement gaps 
    • Balancing budgets while delivering quality instruction 
    • Strengthening the pipeline of effective educators 
    • Increasing public confidence in public schools 

    Building on a legacy of continuous improvement and collective action it has constructed over the years to expand opportunities for all children, the Council proposed to remain faithful to three main goals between 2019 and 2024:  

    1. To educate all urban school students to the highest academic standards  
    2. To lead, govern, and manage urban public schools in ways that advance the educationof studentsand enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of institutions   
    3. To bolster the public’s confidence in urban education and build a supportivecommunity forraising children and enhancing their future  

    The Executive Committee unanimously voted in 2020 to reaffirm these priorities, anticipating the need to adjust tactical efforts as appropriate to ensure that it can address any new or foreseeable challenges.   


    National advocacy, service, and capacity building shape the Council’s activities on behalf of urban school districts across the country as prioritized in the strategic plan. The organization’s work is divided into several areas, each led by a Director:  

    Legislative provides legislative advocacy for urban schools before Congress and the executive and judicial branches of the federal government, bringing millions of dollars in extra federal support to urban school districts each year. This includes providing amicus briefs in the Supreme Court for many education-related cases. The team also advises and implements legislative and regulatory interventions on behalf of member urban school systems and organizes an annual legislative and policy conference in D.C.   

    Research conducts statistical analysis and surveys on conditions, successes, and challenges of urban schools, publishes evidence-based reports on why some urban school districts see faster improvements than others, and conducts studies on issues that are critical to urban districts such as turnaround schools, principal supervisors, school tests, and demographic shifts.   

    Communications publishes the “Urban Educator,” a monthly digital newsletter providing updates on the latest national, state, and city developments in urban education. The communications team informs policy makers, the media, and the public of the successes and challenges of schools in the nation’s great cities. The team also operates and maintains the Council’s website and social media presence.   

    Curriculum and Instruction assesses the instructional programs of member districts and provides strategic support for professional development to improve them. This team spearheads and supports the implementation of college and career readiness standards in member urban school districts. In the area of Bilingual, Immigrant, and Refugee Education, the Council provides support, materials, analysis, and tools to highlight and address the academic needs of ELLs. It provides a professional learning platform to assist member districts with struggling readers. The team also launched a national purchasing consortium, the first effort to harness the joint purchasing power of the nation’s major city school systems to purchase high-quality ELL materials. In addition, it advocates for students with special needs, conducting strategic support teams and research to advise members how to leverage resources and systems to improve student achievement.  

    Management Services supports non-academic management functions including child nutrition, school safety and security, information technologies, human resources, and financial functions.  The Management Services team also coordinates the collection, communication, and use of a wide variety of key operational performance measures to aid member districts in improving their business operations.  

    Administration works to manage the Council’s resources and ensure the integrity of its programs. It conducts an annual external spending audit, coordinates travel for all staff and Board meetings and retreats and maintains the Council’s database. The team hosts the major annual conferences and maintains the online conference registration and hotel reservation system for all meetings.  

    Governance provides on-site technical assistance and formal professional development on effective governance to numerous member boards of education and superintendents.  

    Strategic Support Teams provide on-site district assessments and technical assistance to the Council’s members and, because of these peer reviews, hundreds of reports have been written on the instructional, management, organizational, and operational functions of urban school districts.   

    Staff and Liaison Groups are networks of senior managers who meet annually to discuss best practices and address common problems in areas of instruction, research, legislation, public relations, technology, human resources, and finance and operations. These meetings connect urban education personnel from member cities and give them the opportunity to share ideas and experiences.   

    Finally, the Council convenes two major conferences each year: the Legislative and Policy Conference held in Washington, D.C. in March featuring leading legislators and federal policy makers and the Fall Conference held in October in one of the Council’s member cities, which gives educators the opportunity to share information and best practices on how to improve outcomes for urban students. Attendees also hear from prominent guest speakers and attend a national town hall.