In 2002, the Alliance for Excellent Education published Every Child a Graduate, one of the first nationally focused efforts to draw attention to the problems in many of the country’s middle and high schools and encourage federal—as well as state and local—policy reform designed to improve student achievement and attainment.
Since that report’s release, the need to reform America’s middle and high schools has grown even more urgent. Today, only about one third of the students who enter ninth grade each year can expect to graduate four years later having learned what they need to be prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce. Another third will graduate, but without the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, career training, or entry-level jobs. And the final third will drop out of school before graduation day.
A few of the nation’s high schools are educating all of their students well. Many more are doing a good job of providing a good education to some of their students but allowing others to fall through the cracks. And about two thousand (12 percent) of the country’s high schools produce about half of the nation’s dropouts.
These and other problems with the nation’s secondary schools are chronicled in From No Child Left Behind to Every Child a Graduate, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The good news is that since 2002, the knowledge base that informs what is known about both the problems in America’s secondary schools and the ways to solve them has grown dramatically, thanks to the efforts of researchers and educators across the country.
From No Child Left Behind to Every Child a Graduate presents a new framework for action to improve secondary schools that is based on this expanded pool of research and predicated on the recognition that, to be effective, reform must be comprehensive and systemic. The new framework reflects the consensus among educators, researchers, policymakers, and other authorities on the specific problems of secondary schools, as well as on the research- and best-practice-supported solutions to those problems.
“Much is already known about how to improve the secondary educational system, and more is being discovered every day,” the report reads. “The nation can begin now to transform all of the nation’s middle and high schools into effective centers of teaching and learning. The process will be neither easy nor fast. But the research-based solutions and best practices that have been and are being developed and demonstrated in pockets of excellence around the nation prove that success is possible if the will to effect comprehensive and sustained reform is present.”
Noting that there are no “silver bullets,” the report outlines three principles that must guide decisionmakers in their attempts to create effective policy change at the high school level. First, that all students be held to high expectations that will allow them to graduate ready for college and the modern workplace. Second, that the system support and leverage an effective and individualized approach at the student and school levels. And finally, that educators and policymakers be provided with the data and research necessary to make informed decisions to improve policy and practice.
According to the report, the seven policy areas contained within the framework offer a comprehensive and systemic approach to secondary school reform. The first component, alignment and rigor, would address the fact that many state standards are not aligned to college and work readiness and to the needs of globalization. Instead, the report calls for “high, common expectations for every student by ensuring that standards, curriculum, assessments, and accountability systems are aligned with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in college and the workplace and as a citizen.”
The second element is valid high school accountability systems that are designed to measure student and system performance, foster good practice and mitigate bad practice, and identify and direct resources and reforms to improve teaching, learning, and outcomes for all students. According to the report, the current federal high school accountability policy under the No Child Left Behind Act is made up of a system of arbitrary deadlines, inconsistent goals, unreliable standards, and tests that vary across the states.
Noting that neither high schools nor their students benefit from a one-size-fits-all approach, the report recommends student supports and options that provide all high school students with access to a variety of educational models, technology that supports different learning styles and needs, and interventions designed to help students who are struggling with specific skills or subjects. And in response to the challenges related to recruiting, training, and retaining effective secondary school educators, the report outlines several solutions that the federal government can take to ensure that students have highly effective educators and supportive communities that can provide every student with the academic and nonacademic supports necessary for academic success.
The report also calls on the federal government to help students with college access by ensuring that all students have sufficient academic preparation, an understanding of what is needed financially and academically to be accepted into college, and the financial support necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and in the workforce.
Finally, the report notes that there is relatively little federal investment in the nation’s secondary schools. Rather, federal education funding supports the bookends of the education system—pre-K–6 on one end and higher education on the other. The report calls on the federal government to drive financial and human resources to where they are needed most by ensuring that those resources are allocated equitably and adequately and are used efficiently and effectively.
“The United States faces a stark choice,” the report reads. “It can do nothing to fundamentally change the way it educates its students and thus continue an educational decline that will inevitably lead to a weaker nation with a lower standard of living. Or it can summon its collective resources to face this challenge head on, with smart solutions and adequate resources, to place the nation on a trajectory toward a thriving national economy and a vibrant society for all of its citizens.”
The complete report is available here