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GRADUATES, DATA, AND MIDDLE GRADES: Members Eye NCLB Reauthorization as Vehicle for New Education Legislation Introduced Prior to August Recess

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“Many students in Nevada and throughout the United States currently lack the skills needed to thrive in a growing global economy,” said Reid

Last week was marked by a flurry of activity as members from both chambers introduced education legislation prior to heading back to their districts for the August recess. However, with action expected to begin on an overall NCLB reauthorization bill as early as September, most members were less focused on seeing their legislative proposals debated individually than on positioning them to potentially be included as part of that larger legislative package.

Encouraging Innovation to Create More Graduates

Among the bills introduced last week was the GRADUATES Act (Getting Retention and Diplomas Up Among Today’s Enrolled Students), which was introduced on August 1 by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The act would provide $500 million in competitive grants to spur innovation in the nation’s secondary schools.

“Many students in Nevada and throughout the United States currently lack the skills needed to thrive in a growing global economy,” said Reid. “The number of students who do not graduate is far too high, and many of the students who do earn their degree still lack the knowledge to succeed in college and the workforce. The GRADUATES Act will help tackle this problem head on by providing resources for innovative school reform to help students graduate and participate in the twenty-first century economy.”

The bill would support partnerships to create models of innovation in secondary schools to increase student achievement and prepare students for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. Partnerships would consist of state education agencies or local education agencies with institutes of higher education, community-based organizations, nonprofits, businesses, or school development organizations to create innovative models of reform in secondary schools.

The GRADUATES Act would also provide for rigorous research, evaluation, and accountability to ensure that while the legislation would support a wide range of strategies, federal funding would only be sustained for programs with proven improvement in student achievement. The U.S. Secretary of Education would then share the best practices that emerge from the research and evaluation.

The legislation supports a variety of strategies for innovation in secondary schools, including multiple pathways, personalization, early college and dual enrollment, career academies, improved transitions and alignment, expanded learning time, postsecondary and work-based learning opportunities, increased autonomy and flexibility at the school level, improved learning opportunities in rural schools, and increased rigor at all levels of secondary education aligned with postsecondary education and the workforce.

Support for Data Systems

Two additional bills would support the building of statewide longitudinal data systems to improve the collection and use of educational data to improve teaching and learning. On July 31, Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), introduced the Measuring and Evaluating Trends for Reliability, Integrity, and Continued Success Act (METRICS). The bill would provide $150 million in formula grants to states for the development and implementation of statewide longitudinal data systems. States that receive certification from the Secretary that their system meets the law’s requirements may use funding for professional development and other purposes. It includes a set-aside of up to $2 million for a state education data center to support states in developing these systems, to disseminate best practices, and to serve as a central repository for education and school safety related data.

On August 3, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) introduced S.2014. The legislation would provide $100 million in competitive grants for states for the development and implementation of statewide longitudinal data systems that include all ten essential elements recommended by the Data Quality Campaign and $100 million in formula grants to states for alignment, professional development, and other efforts to improve the use of data.1 The legislation also authorizes funding to support a state education data center and state educational data coordinators to improve data collection, reporting, and compliance processes.

Middle Schools Receive Much Needed Attention

According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), fewer than one third of the students in eighth grade can read and write with proficiency. In math, only 30 percent of students in eighth grade perform at the proficient level, and nearly a third score below the basic level. Despite this evidence that these students need academic help, middle schools have received little attention from Congress.

Earlier this year, a coalition of education organizations—including ACT, the Academy for Educational Development, the Alliance for Excellent Education, the College Board, the International Reading Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grade Reform, and the National Middle Schools Association—formed to bring greater attention to the lack of federal funding and support for students in the middle grades.

The coalition’s efforts paid off on August 3 when Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced the Success in the Middle Act, the first school improvement bill of its kind directed specifically at the middle grades. The bill targets the schools that have middle level grades that feed into the nearly 2,000 “dropout factories” that are spread throughout the country. Dropout factories are high schools in which 60 percent (or fewer) of freshmen will have become seniors three years after finishing their ninth-grade year. These schools account for approximately half of the nation’s dropouts. “Here’s the bottom line,” said Grijalva. “If we want high schools to be successful, we must start investing in middle schools in order to stem the dropout crisis.”

Grijalva’s legislation would authorize $1 billion a year in formula grants for states to improve low-performing schools that contain middle grades. It would require states that receive grants to develop early warning data systems to identify students who are most at risk of dropping out and intervene to help them succeed. Interventions could include extended learning time and personal graduation plans that enable all students to stay on the path to graduation. It would also authorize an additional $100 million to facilitate the generation, dissemination, and application of research needed to identify and implement effective practices that lead to continual student learning and high academic achievement at the middle level.

“The middle grades have been neglected for far too long,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “In order to close the achievement gap in high school, we must also have high-achieving feeder middle schools. Federal policy must ensure that all students are prepared, not only from the early grades, but through all grade levels, to graduate college and work ready.”

More information on these bills, as well as others that would reform the nation’s middle and high schools, is available here

1) A list of the Data Quality Campaign’s “Essential Elements and Fundamentals of a P-12 Longitudinal Data System” is available at http://www.dataqualitycampaign.org/.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.