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Alliance for Excellent Education Calls for Whole-School Reform to Revitalize the Nation’s Low-Performing High Schools

Press Release:

Alliance for Excellent Education Calls for Whole-School Reform to Revitalize the Nation’s Low-Performing High Schools

Washington, DC – Proven models exist to turn around the nation’s low-performing high schools says a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief, Whole-School Reform: Transforming the Nation’s Low-Performing High Schools, describes the benefit of whole-school reform (WSR), a comprehensive approach to simultaneously transform all aspects of a school in order to improve the performance of each of its students. The brief also outlines how the No Child Left Behind Act falls short of properly identifying low-performing schools across the country and creating practical solutions for schools in desperate need of improvement.

“Solving the problems that plague low-performing high schools means moving away from a band-aid approach that layers different improvement strategies on the same failing school model,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Tinkering around the edges might yield slight results, but whole-school reform can provide the complete makeover needed to solve the pervasive problems present in these schools.”

Whole-School Reform explores the growing body of research supporting WSR and validates the positive effects it has on student outcomes. It cites research from the American Institutes for Research finding that WSR is effective in transforming schools when it is implemented well and over an extended period of time. Further research highlights the need for schools to have strong leaders and buy-in from its teachers. Also important are support and cooperation from district, state, and outside entities in order to effectively implement and sustain a WSR model. Federal policy can help to that ensure schools receive this necessary support by encouraging districts and states to align improvement policies to allow schools to more easily implement WSR.

The brief also examines the strategies that whole-school reform models typically use to increase student achievement and it traces the history of federal involvement in whole-school reform, as well as the lessons learned. Based on these lessons, Whole-School Reform recommends that federal policy be amended to:

  • Improve national indicators for measuring high school performance, including common national standards and assessments, and meaningful and common measures of graduation rates.
  • Replace the existing federal accountability and school improvement system with requirements and guidelines for comprehensive state and district systems designed to respond to high schools’ particular challenges.
  • Ensure successful whole-school reform efforts by investing in increased capacity at all levels and encouraging the necessary policy conditions for effective reform.
  • Strengthen the national knowledge base on whole-school reform.


“The pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Act provides a critical opportunity to consider reform that can improve the nation’s low-performing high schools on a systematic, widescale basis,” said Wise. “Whole-school reform systems are driven by reliable data and designed to better prepare each and every high school student for college and career. Early research indicates that with federal, state, and district support, this reform model is a step in the right direction toward eliminating the dropout crisis currently plaguing the nation.”

Whole-School Reform: Transforming the Nation’s Low-Performing High Schools can be found here

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

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