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GENTLEMEN (AND LADIES), START YOUR HEARINGS: Congress Considers How Upcoming NCLB Rewrite Should Address High School Reform

“It’s clear that secondary school students need as much attention and help in [essential courses such as reading and math] as students in lower grades do.”

With the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) up for renewal this year and dismal high school graduation rates in headlines throughout the United States, Congress has started to consider ways that it can use the reauthorization of NCLB to improve student outcomes in high school. Last week, both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on NCLB and high schools; Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise appeared as a witness at both.

On April 24, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee heard testimony on “NCLB Reauthorization: Modernizing Middle and High Schools for the 21st Century.” Setting the tone for the hearing, HELP Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy used his opening statement to declare, “It’s clear that secondary school students need as much attention and help in [essential courses such as reading and math] as students in lower grades do.” As evidence, he pointed to results from the National Assessment in Educational Progress (NAEP) that show that only 30 percent of eighth-grade students performed at grade level or better in math and reading and that only 35 percent of twelfth graders were at grade level in reading.

Kennedy also stressed that more needs to be done to aid students in the transition from middle school to high school and called for better alignment of standards and curricula between middle and high schools. He suggested that students need the opportunity to pursue college-level work as soon as possible and named dual enrollment, early college high schools, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced Placement as examples of programs that can “make a difference in students’ skill levels and future opportunities.”

He added that more resources are needed at the middle and high school levels to raise student achievement and to ensure that every student can graduate from high school.

“Federal investment at the middle and high school level is not sufficient. The main source of federal funds is through the Title I program,” Kennedy said. “Yet, only 8 percent of students who benefit from these funds are in high school. Ninety percent of high schools with very low graduation rates have many low-income students. But only a quarter of these schools receive Title I funds.”

In his opening statement, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), the ranking member on the HELP Committee, stressed the tremendous loss that dropouts inflict on the nation’s economy. “If the high school students who had dropped out of the Class of 2006 had graduated instead, the nation’s economy would have benefited from an additional $309 billion in income they would have earned over their lifetimes,” he said. “It’s an incredible statistic. . . . We simply cannot afford to lose those resources. We must deal with the situation head on—we cannot allow students to ‘waste’ their senior year, and graduate unprepared to enter postsecondary education and a workforce focused on skills and knowledge.”

In his testimony, Alliance President Bob Wise echoed Senator Kennedy’s comments about a general lack of funding for middle and high schools. He also suggested ways the Senate could use the rewrite of NCLB to address some of the problems in the nation’s secondary schools.

“NCLB at its core is about accountability for improving student achievement,” Wise said. “However, there is not true accountability at the high school level—the law looks at test scores but not at if students actually graduate. It’s as if we are clocking runners in a race every mile but then do not pay attention to whether they cross the finish line.”

Among the solutions Wise recommended were a new, meaningful high school accountability system that is tied closely to school improvement. However, he quickly added that a new accountability system alone would not suffice and said that a rewrite of NCLB must include other measures that will inform teaching, support students, and provide the interventions that will ultimately improve student achievement.

Wise also said that a revised NCLB should establish a process for developing shared education standards that are aligned with expectations of postsecondary education and the workforce. He added that the federal government should provide states with incentives and supports for adopting these standards and aligning them with their curricula and graduation requirements. Wise also stressed the importance of longitudinal data systems and individual student identifiers to provide information on how students are performing.

Robert Balfanz, director of the Talent Development Middle School, explained in his testimony how his work and the work of his colleagues at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins has allowed them to identify the 2,000 high schools in the country that account for about half of the nation’s dropouts. Balfanz also explained that, based on his work with Talent Development, he knows that students in these schools have the ability to learn, but they need “much more intensive and effective instruction and adult support” than these schools typically provide.

Other witnesses at the hearing included Tony Habit, president of the New Schools Project in Raleigh, NC; Edna Varner, a senior program consultant for Hamilton County Public Education Foundation and Public Schools in Chattanooga, TN; and John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress.

House Education and Labor Committee Examines Dropouts and School Safety

On April 23, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing titled “NCLB: Preventing Dropouts and Enhancing School Safety.” In his opening statement, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) asked witnesses how Congress could approach the upcoming rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act to promote engaging, safe learning environments that help students most at risk for dropping out. He added that the committee is reviewing elements of successful dropout prevention programs and is beginning to understand the factors that might cause a student to drop out.

“Beyond just socioeconomic factors, experts have identified early indicators that help predict whether a student is likely to drop out of high school,” he said. “Research in four school districts shows that we can identify over half of future dropouts as early as the sixth grade by looking at a small number of telling indicators—attendance, discipline, and trouble mastering basic reading and math skills.”

In his testimony, Bob Wise explained that students need to feel safe and engaged in their schools to succeed in high school or at any level of education. “The Alliance for Excellent Education has developed a list of the ten elements of a successful high school for students and their families,” Wise said. “Those elements are challenging classes, personal attention for all students, extra help for those who need it, skilled teachers, strong leaders, necessary resources, user-friendly information for families and the community, bringing the real world into the classroom, family and community involvement, and a safe learning environment.”

Other witnesses at the hearing included Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, executive director at the Intercultural Development Research Association in San Antonio, TX; Kenneth S. Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland, OH;, Kenneth Smith, president of Jobs for America’s Graduates; and Jane P. Norwood, vice-chair of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

Witness testimony from the Senate hearing, as well as an archived webcast, is available at

An archived webcast of the House hearing and complete witness testimony are available at


Hunt Institute Hosts Nation’s Governors in Executive Session on Education Challenges


On April 11–13, the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy held its 2007 Governors Education Symposium. The symposium allowed the nation’s governors the opportunity to hear from nationally recognized education experts and to examine the critical challenges that face the nation’s schools. The event was cohosted by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D), current chair of the National Governors AssociationMinnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R), and former North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. As a former governor of West Virginia, Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise also attended the event.

The symposium focused on strategies for increasing college readiness, providing extra learning opportunities for students, and improving teacher compensation and performance. Specifically, governors discussed how state standards could be narrowed to focus on a few key topics and could become better aligned with postsecondary expectations. In order to determine how well students were prepared for college, longitudinal data systems were recommended to chart student achievement past high school and into college. Other recommendations that arose from the symposium were the need to increase quality learning opportunities and to reward high-performing teachers.

The Hunt Institute will issue a summary report on the symposium in the coming months. More information is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.