When the Graduation Promise Act was introduced last week, it became the latest in a number of high school reform bills pending in Congress. A quick search of THOMAS, the Library of Congress’s website of federal legislation, reveals over one hundred bills with “high school” somewhere in their texts. However, removing the forty-five or so resolutions that honor everyone and everything from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York (for winning the 2006–2007 PSAL New York City A-League Girls Basketball championship) to Ernest Gallo, “a pioneer in the field of winemaking” (who also graduated from Modesto High School in 1927) leaves a select number of bills that are focused on comprehensive high school reform.
One such piece of legislation, the Pathways for All Students to Succeed Act (PASS Act), was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on February 15. First introduced in 2003 but gaining more attention in the current political environment, the PASS Act takes a three-pronged approach to raising student achievement in high schools. First, it would provide resources that allow schools to hire literacy and math coaches, who would then work with teachers to identify students who struggle to perform at grade level. Second, the bill would allow states to hire additional academic counselors in their poorest high schools. Working with parents and students, these academic counselors would create six-year graduation plans that list the courses and support services that a student needs to graduate. The PASS Act also would provide low-performing high schools with grants that would enable them to implement school reform models that have been proven to raise student achievement. Finally, the bill would provide grants to schools to set up the data systems necessary to accurately calculate graduation rates.
“If we’re going to make sure all students can graduate prepared for college and careers, we need to start academic planning in middle school and provide more help for math and literacy through high school. That’s exactly what the PASS Act does,” Murray said after the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on “Modernizing Middle and High Schools for the 21st Century.” (See the next article for additional information about this hearing.)
Another bill that would work to improve high school graduation rates and student preparation for college and work is the Graduate for a Better Future Act, which was introduced by Senator Richard Burr on March 6. This legislation specifically targets dropout factories and would help high schools identify at-risk students and give them the support they need to stay in school. Specifically, students who are frequently absent or who are struggling to perform at grade level in math, reading, or science would be targeted for accelerated catch-up programs. The bill would also create a comprehensive college guidance program that would make sure that students and their parents are regularly notified about the student’s progress, informing them about college entrance requirements and providing guidance about the college admissions process, including how to apply for scholarships and financial aid.
The Graduation for All Act was introduced March 21 by Representative Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX). Like the PASS Act, it was also originally offered in 2003. This legislative proposal would authorize $1 billion in federal funding for schools to increase literacy rates and to implement individual graduation plans for students most at risk of dropping out of high school, targeting funding to schools with the lowest graduation rates and allowing them to hire one literacy coach for every 600 students. Literacy coaches would then train teachers across the curriculum to incorporate research-based literacy instruction into their teaching and identify students who struggle to read at grade level.
More detailed information on these and other bills, including the Striving Readers Act, which was covered in the April 2 issue of Straight A’s, is available in a new section on the Alliance’s website. With apologies to Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York, the website will not track every bill or resolution that mentions high schools, but it will include descriptions of legislation that could directly improve the achievement of America’s secondary school students, including legislation that focuses on improving teacher recruitment and retention, math and science education, and adolescent literacy, among other elements of reform. The section will feature the Alliance’s analysis of select bills, lists of cosponsors, and other supporting materials. It can be found at https://all4ed.org/federal_policy/KeyLegislation.