Education was not as extensively discussed by the candidates during the recent presidential campaign as many in the education world might have liked, despite the assertions of both President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry that actions to improve the public education system and expand access to college would be critical components of their administrations. With the election now behind us, however, President Bush has once again assured Americans that he intends to concentrate his educational focus in his second term on the reform of America’s high schools.
“No Child Left Behind is already beginning to show results in elementary reading and math scores, but President Bush also wants to ensure that all high school students will be better prepared to enter higher education or the workforce,” reads Education: The Promise of America, a new policy paper posted on the White House website. It notes that “today’s middle and high school students did not have the chance to benefit from the reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act in elementary school, and many of these students need additional help to graduate from high school and enter college or the workforce prepared to succeed.”
$200 Million for Striving Readers
Over the past several months, the president has outlined several new initiatives to help prepare students for high school and beyond. For example, he proposed including $200 million for the Striving Readers initiative in his fiscal 2006 budget, an amount that would double the request he made in his fiscal 2005 budget. The request is currently pending, part of the 2005 appropriations process that Congress hopes to complete when it returns later this month for a lame duck session. Fiscal 2005 funding for the Striving Readers program, when and if approved, will be available through competitive grants to “develop, implement, and evaluate effective reading interventions for middle or high school students reading significantly below grade level.”
Research has shown that students who receive intensive, focused literacy instruction and tutoring will graduate from high school and attend college in significantly greater numbers than those not receiving such attention. The Striving Readers initiative is designed to help middle and high school students who are having difficulty reading at grade level. Depending on the level of funding approved by Congress, the initiative could serve as many as two hundred school districts in the 2005-06 school year.
These demonstration grants will help to identify model programs and will further develop an understanding of effective interventions for adolescents through the evaluations of these promising practices that will be conducted as part of the initiative. However, it is at best a small first step toward improving the literacy levels of the two-thirds of American high school students who are not proficient readers. The president’s proposed increased funding of $200 million will advance the program’s impact, but it will still fall far short of addressing the needs of the more than eight million students in grades four through twelve who currently read at “below basic” levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). These students need and deserve a commitment from the administration and Congress that is at least comparable to that given to Reading First, the program that supports improved literacy for students in the early grades, which received $1 billion in fiscal 2004.
In the 108th Congress, efforts were underway to develop a federal role that would support older students who struggle to read at grade level. The Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act (S. 1554) was introduced last year by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and would have created a $1 billion grant program to establish research-based literacy instruction in all academic classes for students in grades six through twelve. Under the program, grants would have provided resources for each secondary school to hire a school-based literacy coach, who would give ongoing support to help teachers incorporate literacy across the curriculum, assess student progress, assist with diagnostic tests, and work with school leadership to institute a school-based literacy plan. In the House, Representatives Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Susan Davis (D-CA) included a similar proposal in their Graduation for All Act (H.R. 3085). Both bills expire at the close of the 108th Congress and would need to be reintroduced when the 109th Congress convenes in January.
$200 Million for “Performance Plans”
The president also proposed the establishment of a new $200 million fund for states to encourage schools to develop performance plans, based on eighth-grade data, for entering high school students. The proposed program would include periodic classroom-based assessment of individual students to determine student progress and possible suggestions for remedial work, and would be developed with input from parents. Both PASS and Graduation for All have components that would help students develop graduation plans and identify the courses and support services they need to graduate.
Better Assessments with New High School Tests
As it is currently written, the No Child Left Behind Act requires assessments every year from grades three through eight, but only once in high school. President Bush has proposed requiring two additional tests in grades nine through eleven. If Congress supports this proposal, students would be assessed every year from grade three through eleven. The president has proposed $250 million in funding to cover the additional costs of the new assessments.
Also in the president’s proposal for high schools is a call for mandatory participation by twelfth graders in the NAEP. The NAEP is one of the few national assessments that track student achievement over time. Currently, the tests are administered every other year to a national sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students in the areas of reading and math, but participation at the twelfth-grade level is voluntary for states and the results for that age group are statistically unreliable. President Bush has also said that he would provide “bold and dramatically new incentives” to increase participation and encourage students to do well on the tests. According to the president, an expansion of the NAEP test will help to identify areas where high schools are not meeting the needs of students and strengthen curricula to ensure improvement.
President Bush has made other high school proposals, including a mathematics and science partnership program, an adjunct teacher corps, and funding to encourage rigorous courses in high school.
The administration’s education policy paper, Education: The Promise of America, can be found athttp://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/09/20040926.html#4.