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Alliance for Excellent Education Offers Recommendations on How ESEA Reauthorization Can Better Prepare Students for College and Careers

Press Release:

Alliance for Excellent Education Offers Recommendations on How ESEA Reauthorization Can Better Prepare Students for College and Careers

Washington, DC – In recommendations provided to the U.S. Congress, the Alliance for Excellent Education calls for an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—currently known as No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—that would hold states, districts, and schools accountable for graduating students from high school ready for college and careers. To help states, districts, and schools meet this goal, the Alliance recommends that ESEA reauthorization support school improvement systems tailored to meet their specific needs while providing the resources necessary to turn around low-performing middle and high schools.

“NCLB is a compact disc in an iPod world,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “It was groundbreaking in 2002, but now is in desperate need of an upgrade. After eight years of implementation, we know NCLB’s limitations and how to address them. The time to do so is now.

“ESEA reauthorization is a critical opportunity to strengthen the nation’s middle and high schools and ensure that every child graduates on time, ready for postsecondary education and a career,” Wise continued. “Current law leaves high schools behind. The blueprint released by the Obama administration moves us in the right direction, placing a necessary emphasis on college and career readiness and focuses federal effort on the lowest-performing schools.”

The Alliance’s four recommendations, which are a reaction to the Obama administration’s A Blueprint for Reform, are as follows:

1) Codify the goal of graduating all students from high school on time, ready for college and careers.

For students to compete in the twenty-first-century workforce, they must graduate with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college and careers, rather than mere proficiency in basic skills. The Alliance supports the goal outlined in the blueprint that state standards lead to college and career readiness by the end of high school, but recommends that ESEA reauthorization support-not require-state adoption of the state-developed common core standards.

2) Hold states, districts, and schools accountable for achieving the goal of college and career readiness.

Under NCLB, there is little accountability for high school graduation rates. ESEA reauthorization should require states, districts, and schools to calculate graduation rates consistently, disaggregate graduation rates by subgroup, and raise graduation rates over time. A reauthorized ESEA should also support states and groups of states in developing comprehensive assessment systems that show what students truly understand, provide data that informs school leaders about teachers’ effectiveness at improving student learning and suggests professional development strategies, and includes a mix of measures that help ensure that students meet core learning goals and not simply low-level content and skills that are measured using multiple-choice exams.

3) Support state- and district-led school improvement systems that are data driven; differentiate reforms and interventions to meet the specific needs of districts, schools, and students; and address the lowest-performing secondary schools.

Although the “Reward” and “Challenge” designations in the blueprint offer a helpful structure by which a comprehensive school improvement system can be developed, there are several ways it could be improved.

Reward Schools: The Alliance recommends caution with the notion that Reward schools should receive additional financial resources or competitive advantages in federal grant competitions because, by definition, Reward schools have fewer needs than lower-performing schools.

Challenge Schools: Although it is appropriate for federal policy to be more directive with regard to the reform activities pursued by chronically underperforming schools, the Alliance believes that chronically low-performing schools will not improve unless changes are made to the teaching and learning within the school or its replacement. A robust analysis of a school’s assets and challenges should drive the school reform process, rather than a firm federal prescription.

The Unlabeled Middle: Under the blueprint, the unlabeled middle schools are not required to take any specific action. The Alliance proposes that all schools not designated as Reward schools be required to implement a school improvement plan that is data driven and includes research-based interventions tailored to the individual needs of the school and students.

4) Strengthen federal investment in secondary schools, including a formula-based funding stream to turn around low-performing secondary schools as proposed by the Graduation Promise Act.

Under NCLB, only 10 percent of the Title I funds that trigger interventions for low-performing schools make it to high school students. As a result, there is little to no funding to help local educators turn around the lowest-performing middle and high schools.

Read Governor Wise’s letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee outlining the Alliance’s recommendations here.

Read the Alliance’s complete recommendations here.

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