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GRADUATION FOR ALL: House Bill Promotes Student Graduation Plan and Adolescent Literacy to Combat High Dropout Rates

"Most dropouts read below the ninth-grade level,"

In an effort to raise embarrassingly low graduation rates in the nation’s high schools, a new bill in the House of Representatives authorizes $1 billion in federal funding for schools to increase literacy rates and implement individual graduation plans for students most at risk of dropping out of high school. H.R. 3085, the Graduation For All Act, introduced by Reps. Susan Davis (D-CA) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), would provide funds for schools to hire literacy coaches who would train teachers across the curriculum to incorporate research-based literacy instruction into their teaching.

“Most dropouts read below the ninth-grade level,” said Davis. “Research has shown that focused literacy instruction will help students graduate from high school-and attend college. They will become productive workers, have better lives, and contribute to the economy as well. When every adolescent reads well, everyone wins.”

The Graduation for All Act is especially important because it would help fill a gap in federal policy for students in secondary schools. Even though middle and high schools educate 33 percent of students, high schools only receive 5 percent of Title I funding for K-12. As the following graph illustrates, middle schools and high schools are the “missing middle” when it comes to federal policy and funding for education programs. By adding a new funding stream for middle and high schools, the federal government can become a partner with states and local school districts in addressing today’s alarming 30 percent dropout rate.

The Missing Middle: High School Students Left Behind
Missing Middle

NOTE: K-8 Funding represents 95 percent of the FY03 Title I appropriation. Funding for high schools represents 5 percent of the Title I appropriation plus 100 percent of the FY03 appropriation for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

The federal government currently funds reading programs for K-3 students and for adults, but the nation’s middle and high school students are falling through the cracks. On the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress, 25 percent of students in eighth grade scored below basic in reading. Overall, while fourth-graders had a higher average scale score in 2002 than in 1998, eighth-graders showed no improvement, and 12th-graders actually showed a decline in performance between 1998 and 2002.

Without a focus on literacy instruction at the high school level, many of these students are left to drift through high school, often faking their way through reading assignments. Even worse, some students drop out altogether. Even students who manage to graduate from high school sometimes find themselves enrolled in remedial courses upon entering postsecondary education. Among students who attended high-minority-enrollment secondary schools, the enrollment rate in remedial courses is an astounding 40 percent.

The Graduation for All Act would target funding to schools with the lowest graduation rates and allow them to hire one literacy coach for every 600 students. Literacy coaches would not only work with students, but also with teachers across the curriculum. After all, if a student cannot read and comprehend his history textbook, how is he expected to succeed in the course?

Like the No Child Left Behind Act, the bill contains accountability provisions that require states and school districts to disaggregate graduation rates by race, ethnicity, income, disability status, and limited English proficiency status. States must also set annual measurable objectives for improving graduation rates. In an effort control reporting options that tend to make graduation rates look higher than they are, the bill also requires school districts to report the number of high school-age youth who have left school, but are enrolled in adult education or other GED programs.

In an article for The Providence Journaleducation consultant Julia Steiny discusses the “numbers game” that many school districts are playing in an effort to keep their dropout rate to a minimum. She says the Enron-like manipulation of the dropout figures in Houston and New York City are the combined result of “much sloppiness as well as deliberate and brazen miscoding, and the white lie of counting students who get a GED as non-dropouts. Schools have less than no incentive to invest the significant leg work it would take to get an accurate count.”

Currently, the Graduation for All Act has 21 cosponsors: Reps. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D-PR), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA),Ed Case (D-HI), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Martin Frost (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA),Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Major Owens (D-NY), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Hilda Solis (D-CA), John Spratt, Jr. (D-SC), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), andLynn Woolsey (D-CA).

Numbers Game Leaves Many Behind:

Case Study-Adolescent Literacy Initiative
Chicago Reading Initiative – Chicago, IL

Educators and decision makers across the nation are realizing the importance that literacy plays in a child’s ability to succeed in life. Chicago Public School (CPS) CEO Arne Duncan has made improving literacy a district priority, establishing Chicago Reading Initiative, a uniform instructional framework across the curriculum. The goal is to reform low-performing schools by implementing the CPS Reading Framework, which requires teachers to teach reading for two hours daily and use evidence-based strategies. The Framework also calls for literacy specialists to work with teachers to incorporate word knowledge, comprehension, writing, and reading fluency into their subject area curriculum.

The Chicago Reading Initiative is a two-year plan with the goal of ensuring that all students have access to high quality instruction in reading. The first year of the initiative, 2001-2002, targeted the 114 lowest achieving elementary schools in the district and focused on dissemination of training materials and professional development for school staff and leadership. All principals received training and materials in the reading framework, all K-3rd grade classrooms received grade-appropriate classroom libraries, and highly qualified reading specialists were assigned to each of the elementary schools. These specialists received ongoing training, coaching, and mentoring through out the year.

Building on the success of the elementary program, the reading initiative entered high schools in the 2002-2003 academic year. Each high school created a literacy team, comprised of core subject teachers (one from each department), a special education teacher, and the school’s principal or assistant principal. Over the course of the academic year, these teams received a total of 40 hours of professional development from Literacy Specialists. The professional development sessions include demonstrations of classroom strategies, small group and individual mentoring/coaching sessions, assessment of student progress, and data interpretation.

The Chicago Reading Initiative is scheduled to continue for the 2003-2004 school year, with 160 reading specialists assigned to the bottom quartile elementary schools, over 1,200 teachers participating in Summer Reading Professional Development Program, and training for over 450 high school teachers to implement reading in the four core subject areas.

More information on the Chicago Reading Initiative, as well as over 70 other case studies in adolescent literacy, college preparation, smaller learning communities, and teacher and principal quality are available on the Alliance Web site here.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.