In an appearance on January 7 marking the sixth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), President Bush said that he had instructed U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to move forward on reforms that she can do through the administrative process, should Congress fail to reauthorize NCLB. On March 18, while stressing that she continues to work with members of Congress to reauthorize NCLB, Spellings announced a new pilot program that would allow states to differentiate between underperforming schools that are in need of dramatic interventions and those that are closer to meeting NCLB goals.
“Educators and policymakers agree,” Spellings said, “we must make sure educators have the best ways to chart student progress over time, the flexibility to improve struggling schools and more accurate ways to measure graduation rates. We must make sure that students who need extra help can get it. As I’ve said before, I will continue working with members of Congress to address these changes legislatively. But students and teachers need help now. Therefore I am moving forward, as the president charged.”
In an interview prior to the announcement, Spellings said that the pilot program would be open to up to ten states and would allow states to distinguish between “on-fire schools and those with a smolder.” To be eligible, states must have already approved assessment systems to measure student achievement. In addition, they must agree to publish timely, transparent information about educational progress and challenges, as well as options for parents. They must also commit to building their capacity for reform and to focusing their most significant actions around their lowest-performing schools, such as the approximately 2,000 “dropout factories” that, nationally, graduate less than 60 percent of their students and produce up to half of high school dropouts.
Spellings outlined the types of interventions that states could provide during a speech in Saint Paul, MN, that featured Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), and Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. Some of the interventions that Spellings listed include sending the most experienced and effective teachers to work in the neediest schools and rewarding them for doing harder work, closing some of the lowest-performing schools, and partnering with the nonprofit and private sectors to develop new approaches.
In a statement, Wilhoit called differentiated accountability for schools and districts “one of the most critical issues” in the reauthorization of NCLB.” He said that the pilot program “moves No Child Left Behind in the right direction by beginning to allow states and districts to better target interventions.”
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, called the plan a “step in the right direction,” but said he was concerned that “without a new funding stream for high schools, states will not have the resources that they need to effectively target the dropout factories that exist within their borders.”
Noting also that forty states would not benefit from the proposed program, Wise pointed to the Graduation Promise Act (GPA), legislation introduced last year by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would create a $2.4 billion High School Improvement and Dropout Reduction Fund to help every state create statewide systems of differentiated high school improvement. The GPA would also focus research and evidence-based intervention on the lowest-performing high schools to help them reduce dropout rates and increase student achievement.
“In order to ensure that all students have access to the targeted support and additional resources that they need to succeed, Congress needs to make significant high school reform-like that included in the GPA-a part of a reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act,” Wise said. “Only then can the nation end the dropout crisis and ensure that every student is a high school graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life.”
A transcript of Spellings’s announcement is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2008/03/03182008.html.
More information on the Graduation Promise Act is available at https://all4ed.org/federal_policy/legislative_updates/GPA.