Last week, President Bush outlined a $1.5 billion high school initiative to help every high school student graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in college and be competitive in the workforce. The president spoke at J. E. B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Virginia, joined by outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Secretary-nominee Margaret Spellings. Also in attendance were First Lady Laura Bush and members of the Virginia congressional delegation.
The initiative would raise the funding level for the newly created Striving Readers program from $25 million in fiscal year 2005 to $200 million in 2006. It would also support, through customized intervention plans, state efforts to help incoming ninth-grade students. State assessments to ensure that high school diplomas are “not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed” would be funded at $250 million. Other elements of the initiative include increased funding for the Mathematics and Science Partnership program, an increase in support for advanced placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, and the creation of an incentive fund to reward teachers who demonstrate success.
Bush explained that this appearance was one of his first in 2005 because his administration is “dedicated to doing everything we can at the federal level to improve public education.” He continued, “You can’t have a hopeful America without a public school system that’s working to the best of its abilities.” Bush cited the nation’s 68 percent graduation rate and American fifteen-year-olds’ twenty-seventh place ranking out of thirty-nine countries in math literacy as evidence that high schools are not preparing students to compete in the knowledge-based economy of the twenty-first century.
Early Intervention Programs for At-Risk Ninth Graders and the Importance of Reading
In an effort to identify incoming ninth graders who are at risk of falling behind, Bush proposed an early intervention program through which high school teachers would analyze eighth-grade test data and design a program to help struggling students catch up while they are still able to do so. The program would be flexible, tailored to the needs of each student, and developed in consultation with a parent. To measure the program’s success and student progress, Bush proposed extending the annual NCLB testing requirement to include assessments in reading and math in grades nine, ten, and eleven. Currently, states are only required to test students in grades 3-8 and in one year of high school.
President Bush talked at length about the importance of reading:
The principal of this great school said we spell hope: R-E-A-D. I thought that’s a pretty darn good slogan. And the reason why that’s a good slogan is to make sure every high school student has a chance to realize his or her dreams, each graduate must read-must know how to read. You can’t-you cannot achieve in America if you cannot read and, yet, too many of our children cannot read.
To combat reading deficiencies among older students, the president’s fiscal 2006 budget will ask Congress to expand his Striving Readers initiative to $200 million. These funds would go to help more than one hundred school districts “train teachers in research-based methods so they can provide effective interventions for middle and high school students struggling in reading.” During his speech, Bush singled out Sandy Switzer, J. E. B. Stuart High School’s reading coach, for her efforts in improving reading scores at the school. He explained that she ensures that students focus on reading, not only in reading classes but also in math and across the curriculum.
Rigorous High School Curriculum and Improving Teacher Quality
The International Baccalaureate program is another key to J. E. B. Stuart High School’s success. Forty percent of Stuart’s students are enrolled in an IB course-this in a school where two-thirds of the students are second-language learners from more than seventy countries. To promote a similar commitment to IB and advanced placement programs in schools across the country, President Bush will ask for $52 million to ensure that teachers in low-income schools are well trained to teach AP and IB courses. The president would also provide $45 million to help more states develop State Scholars programs, which encourage students to take more rigorous courses. In addition, he proposed giving $1,000 in additional Pell Grant aid during the first two years of college to low-income students who successfully completed the State Scholars curriculum.
President Bush also outlined several proposals to encourage and reward good teachers. To improve secondary school students’ math abilities, Bush would provide $120 million for school districts to implement research-based programs that help math teachers strengthen their teaching skills. He called for an Adjunct Teachers Corps, which would provide teaching opportunities for professionals to teach middle and high school courses, especially math and science. Bush also proposed a $500 million incentive fund that would allow school districts to provide financial rewards to teachers based on increased student achievement, teaching in low-income schools, or other criteria that the district chooses.
Consolidating Federal Funding Streams for High Schools
Bush announced his intention to improve the way the federal government funds high schools by providing flexibility for states and local districts to select the federal programs they need most.
The federal government-oh, we’ve got a lot of programs designed to help high school students . . . The problem is they’re . . . prescriptions that may not meet the needs of the local high school, or the local school district-you know, a program to promote vocational education, or to prepare for college preparation, or to encourage school restructuring. They all sound fine, and they’re all important. But they may not be what is necessary for a particular school district or a high school to achieve the objective of teaching every child to read and write and add and subtract. So I believe we ought to consolidate the high school improvement programs so that states have the flexibility to choose the program that works best for their students.
Extending NCLB into High Schools Could Meet Resistance on Capitol Hill
Many of Bush’s proposals were included in his budget request for fiscal year 2005 but were rejected or watered down by Congress during the appropriations process last year. The president is likely to face similar or greater challenges this year, as Congress works to reduce the nation’s budget deficit.
Certainly, Bush’s plan to extend the No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on testing and standards into high schools is likely to meet resistance on Capitol Hill-and not just from Democrats who say the administration has not sufficiently funded No Child Left Behind. “I don’t know if there’s political will on [Capitol Hill] to expand testing in high school,” Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times.
In that same Los Angles Times article, U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee and one of the chief architects of NCLB, said that he would not work with Bush on a high school bill unless the president agreed to fully fund NCLB. For fiscal year 2005, Miller and other Democrats contend that NCLB’s Title I program, which directs funding to disadvantaged students, is by itself underfunded by over $7.75 billion.
In a statement, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who introduced a high school reform bill during the 108th Congress, applauded the President’s increased commitment to literacy programs in high schools, but was concerned that his proposal “places a premium on testing and, without the right investment, threatens to leave more students behind.”
In remarks at the National Press Club just a few hours after President Bush’s speech, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the ranking minority member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and another leading developer of NCLB, also stressed the importance of fully funding that law.
I welcome President Bush’s remarks today on improving our high schools. But, it’s clear that unless we fund the reforms under the No Child Left Behind Act for earlier grades and younger children, what we do in high schools will matter far less. We are past the point where we can afford only to talk the talk, without walking the walk. It’s time for the White House to realize that America cannot expand opportunity and embrace the future on a tin cup education budget.
Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), the new HELP Committee chairman, expressed a more positive tone in response to the president’s speech. “I applaud the president’s commitment to high school reform,” he said. “High schools are an integral part of our public education system, and more effective federal support is an important part of improving student achievement, particularly with respect to math, science, and reading skills.” However, Enzi did raise a concern about the president’s plan to consolidate funding streams and stressed the importance of continued support for vocational and technical education as a critical component of high school education.
President Bush’s complete remarks are available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050112-5.html.
“Bush’s Latest Brainchild Could Be Left Behind” is available at
A statement from Alliance interim president Cynthia H. Sadler is available at https://all4ed.org/press_room/press_releases/01122005.