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NCLB REDUX: House Committee Releases Draft Language on NCLB Reauthorization, Includes Significant New Programs for High Schools

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“In response to feedback that we have received on the No Child Left Behind Act through nearly two dozen hearings in Washington, DC and around the country, a review of written recommendations from over 100 education groups, and many conversations with our constituents and our colleagues in Congress, we have developed the attached staff discussion draft for Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

On August 28, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) and Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) released a 435-page plan for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and invited education stakeholders to submit comments on it by September 5. The draft, which only included Title I of NCLB, contains significant new provisions for high schools. It also outlines plans to revamp the accountability system by revising how Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is calculated and includes new interventions for schools that fail to meet achievement goals.

“In response to feedback that we have received on the No Child Left Behind Act through nearly two dozen hearings in Washington, DC and around the country, a review of written recommendations from over 100 education groups, and many conversations with our constituents and our colleagues in Congress, we have developed the attached staff discussion draft for Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” reads a letter from Miller, McKeon, and Representatives Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Michael Castle (R-DE) that accompanied the discussion draft.

The letter says that the discussion draft is a “work in progress” and “subject to change over the coming weeks as the committee moves a bill through the legislative process.” It adds that the committee had not endorsed the draft but felt that it represented a “good starting point from which to receive input.”

The reauthorization of NCLB provides Congress with an excellent opportunity to address middle and high schools, which were largely left out of the current law. The discussion draft appears to take several steps toward correcting that oversight. One new provision is a “Graduation Promise Fund” that would establish new resources to support schoolwide improvement activities in high schools with the lowest graduation rates.

Unlike the current law, which allows states to use different graduation rate calculations, the draft plan would establish a single definition of a high school graduation rate that would be used in every state. It would also boost graduation rate accountability by requiring states to disaggregate graduation rates by student subgroups (racial, special education, English language learners, etc.) in a way similar to that currently used for test scores. In addition, it would require all schools to make increases in their graduation rates in order to make AYP.

For example, under the draft language states will either require schools to meet an average growth target of 2.5 percentage points per year in their graduation rates to make AYP (3 percentage points if a five-year graduation rate is used) or may develop an alternate system that is equally rigorous and results in closing the achievement gap between student subgroups by 2019–2020. It would also set an end goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for every high school in the country.

To help states measure graduation rates more accurately and to address other needs, the draft plan would create a new program to help fund longitudinal data systems in every state and require each state to develop such a system within four years of the bill’s passage. Data collected by these systems includes student academic achievement results, graduation rates, and other data elements related to academic achievement.

The draft also outlines plans to revamp the accountability system by implementing “growth models” that would allow states to measure growth in individual student achievement over time instead of comparing cohorts of students from year to year. And whereas NCLB in its current form only permits states to count math and reading scores to measure AYP, the draft proposal would allow states to use multiple measures for accountability, including graduation, dropout, and college-going rates, the percentage of students who complete end-of-course exams for college preparatory courses, and assessments in government, history, science, and writing. And, whereas NCLB in its current form focuses on bringing every student up to proficiency in reading and math, the draft language moves the goal to which states should align their standards to college and work readiness.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, called the draft a “true step forward” for high school reform at the federal level. “In the past, high schools have been neglected in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” he said. “Clearly, Chairman Miller and Representative McKeon are being thoughtful and deliberate in the way they approach high school policy in this reauthorization. The draft takes into consideration the research and practice that shows what is working for at-risk students in our nation’s high schools by including a new funding stream for research-based high school improvement, along with a more accurate measure of high school performance through common calculation, disaggregation, and meaningful growth in graduation rates for all students.”

However, Wise added that some sections of the draft were “in need of improvement,” specifically mentioning that “adequate funding is critical to the success of school improvement efforts.” He said that he looked forward to working with Congressmen Miller and McKeon to ensure that the reauthorization includes the best policy for the nation’s high school students.

Looking Forward

At the end of July, Chairman Miller said that it was his intention to bring the bill reauthorizing NCLB to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for debate during the month of September. With a one-week turnaround for submitting comments on the Title I discussion draft, a marathon hearing on the reauthorization scheduled for September 10, and a September 14 deadline for comments on Titles II–XI (see article below), it is apparent that Miller is doing everything he can to keep his timeline.

On the Senate side, lawmakers worked on their version of NCLB reauthorization throughout the month of August and hope to have it ready for floor debate before the end of the year.

The complete NCLB discussion draft, as well as an eleven-page summary, is available at http://edworkforce.house.gov/micro/nclb.shtml.

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