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Alliance for Excellent Education Calls For New Federal Approach to Improve America’s Lowest-Performing High Schools

Press Release:

Alliance for Excellent Education Calls For New Federal Approach to Improve America’s Lowest-Performing High Schools

Washington, DC–Following last week’s finding from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s (NAEP) Long-Term Trend report that performance levels for seventeen-year-old students have not improved since the early 1970s, a national education reform organization recommends aggressive federal action to improve the lowest-performing high schools and dramatically reduce a dropout crisis that affects over one million students per year.

In a new brief, Action Required: Addressing the Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools, the Alliance for Excellent Education urges education and political leaders to strategically focus on the lowest-performing high schools and provide better educational options for the students they serve. The brief outlines specific options and provides recommendations for federal policy based on lessons learned from emerging strategies at the state and local levels.

“Trying to address a dropout crisis that claims almost one-third of our high school students each year without having focused solutions for the nation’s lowest-performing high schools is like trying to fill a leaking bucket without first plugging all of the holes,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “And while the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has sparked national awareness about the need for systemic school improvement by pointing out shortcomings in the performance of individual schools, it does not have remedies that successfully address the lowest-performing high schools.”

Indeed, the nation’s lowest-performing high schools—such as the nation’s 2,000 “dropout factories,” where almost as many students will drop out as graduate—are seemingly impervious to improvement. According to the brief, these schools are often “staffed with the least-experienced, least-qualified, and least-effective educators and lack adequate resources.” In addition, the existing systems of which they are a part—the school district and the state—are not responding with the necessary support and strategies to turn these schools around and improve student outcomes.

“Just about everyone in the country can point out a low-performing high school,” Wise said. “If there’s a high school in your neighborhood where you wouldn’t send your kids, there is a compelling reason to take action.”

According to Action Required, NCLB attempts to improve lowest-performing high schools through its Title I accountability and school improvement process, and its most intensive strategy for the lowest-performing schools, termed “restructuring.” However, these provisions—and the results of their implementation—are not working. Specifically, the brief finds the following flaws with NCLB’s approach:

  • NCLB’s mechanism for measuring all schools’ performance—Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)—is inadequate for high schools.
  • NCLB’s one-size-fits-all method of intervention does not recognize individual school’s needs, nor does it target the lowest-performing high schools.
  • NCLB’s limited approach to intervention does not bring fundamental improvements to teaching, learning, and student outcomes in the lowest-performing high schools.

Action Required: Addressing the Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools says new federal legislation, including the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), must provide better options for the students in the lowest-performing high schools—either through transforming schools, closing them, or replacing them. The school improvement process must involve educators, education leaders, and policymakers at all levels, be led by states and districts, and depend on detailed information about student and school performance.

“The recent NAEP findings that high school students in the twenty-first century show little improvement over their twentieth-century counterparts,” Wise stated, “means strong federal action is required immediately. Action Required shows how not to leave the next generation behind.”

As stated in the brief, the goal of federal policy should be to create a comprehensive high school improvement strategy that will assist all of the nation’s lowest-performing high schools. Specifically, it recommends that federal policymakers:

  • Improve national indicators for measuring high school performance.
  • Replace the existing federal accountability and school improvement system with data-driven state and district systems that are tailored to meet the particular needs of students and schools and lead to improved teaching, learning, and outcomes.
  • Ensure that these state and district systems of accountability and improvement are designed to prioritize and respond to the lowest-performing high schools.
  • Invest in the ability of states and school districts to address the lowest-performing high schools.
  • Increase research activities related to providing the lowest-performing high schools with effective school options for students.

The complete brief is available here

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life.

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