On April 23, U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) introduced new legislation that would transform the nation’s lowest- performing high schools into effective centers of teaching and learning. Called the Graduation Promise Act (GPA), the legislation would set aside $2.5 billion each year for the purpose of reforming the nation’s high schools.
The largest component of the legislation is a $2.4 billion High School Improvement and Dropout Reduction Fund that focuses on the nation’s approximately 2,000 “dropout factories.”1 According to researchers Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters from Johns Hopkins University, dropout factories are high schools where 60 percent (or fewer) of freshmen will have become seniors three years after finishing their ninth-grade year; these schools account for nearly half of the nation’s dropouts. In addition, almost half of the nation’s African-American students and nearly 40 percent of Latino students attend these schools, compared to only 11 percent of white students.
“We cannot afford to let the estimated 2,000 failing high schools in our country continue to push students off the path to prosperity,” Bingaman said. “Collectively, these schools serve approximately 2.4 million students. We must ensure the continued prosperity of our country by promising [all] high school students a chance to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue their dreams and succeed. The Graduation Promise Act will help make that possible.”
States would use money from the High School Improvement and Dropout Reduction Fund to create or expand comprehensive state accountability and improvement systems that identify high schools with low graduation rates and low student achievement. Once identified, these schools would receive resources to implement evidence-based school improvement activities that have been proven to improve student achievement and to increase high school graduation rates.
As part of this system, states would develop performance indicators and set a minimum amount of improvement that they would expect schools to make on these indicators. Districts would use the school performance indicators that their state develops to categorize high schools that fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years into one of three improvement categories: schools needing targeted assistance, schools needing whole school reform, or schools needing replacement.
In addition, the bill would create a $60 million grant program for the development, implementation, and replication of highly effective secondary school models for struggling students and dropouts. These models would serve students who are significantly older than others in the same grade and/or who lack the credits needed to progress toward an on-time graduation, late-entrant English language learners, and students who have already dropped out of school, among others.
The third component of the bill is a $40 million grant program that would encourage states to implement policy changes necessary to increase student achievement and graduation rates in every high school. Some changes could include additional high school options, such as small schools and early college high schools.
“The Graduation Promise Act will make great strides in helping high school students achieve their fullest potential by bringing our schools into the twenty-first century,” Kennedy said. “The bill will help local schools, states, and the federal government to work together to modernize the practices and models that are being used in our schools to ensure the success of all our students.”
The GPA already has the formal, public support of over thirty national education organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education. “With one-third of our high school students not graduating, and another third graduating without the knowledge and skills to succeed in college or the workforce, our high schools are floundering and in desperate need of reform,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and a former governor of West Virginia. “The nation’s high dropout rates are a cry for federal action. The Graduation Promise Act identifies the needs of our struggling high schools and students, provides strategies for improvement, and assigns appropriate funding for implementation.”
Read Senator Bingaman’s press release on the Graduation Promise Act at http://bingaman.senate.gov/news/20080507-02.cfm.
Use the Alliance’s Promoting Power database to identify dropout factories (high schools with a promoting power of 60 percent or less) in your state at https://all4ed.org/about_the_crisis/schools/state_and_local_info/promotingpower.
1) More information on Balfanz and Letgers’s research is available at http://www.csos.jhu.edu/pubs/grad.htm.