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Testifying Before Congress, Bob Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Says Federal Policy Must Address the Needs of High Schools

Press Release:

Testifying Before Congress, Bob Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Says Federal Policy Must Address the Needs of High Schools

Alliance President Offers Recommendations for High School Reform Based on Lessons Learned from Successful High Schools

Washington, DC–In testimony before the House Committee on Education and Labor this afternoon, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, said failure of federal policy to address the needs of high schools will lead to an economic crisis that will be greater than the combined cost of bailing out banks, financial institutions, the auto industry, and AIG.

Wise voiced hope in the high schools around the country that are providing high quality, college- and work-ready educations for their students and called on Congress to take the lessons learned from these schools and apply them to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). “We know what to do; we just have to do it,” Wise said, adding that the Alliance looks forward to working with the committee to advance high school reform in an ESEA reauthorization.

Wise also expressed grave concern with the current state of the nation’s high schools during the hearing, “America’s Competitiveness through High School Reform.”

“The nation’s high schools are not meeting the needs of individuals or our economy. One third of all students do not graduate from high school,” Wise said. “Only half of those who do, graduate prepared for college and the workforce. The numbers are far more staggering for the poor and minority students. By 2050, half of our population will be comprised of minority populations. From a civil rights and economic perspective, we can’t afford to ignore the education needs of the fastest-growing populations in this country.

“Given the state of high schools in the United States, it is imperative that we focus attention on the six million students most at risk of dropping out if we want long-term economic stability. Addressing the crisis in high schools is a civil rights and economic imperative. In an Information Age economy, education is the main currency.”

Wise spoke about how America’s high schools are not preparing students to compete in the global marketplace of the twenty-first century. He noted that American fifteen-year-olds rank twenty-fifth in math, twenty-first in science, fifteenth in reading literacy, and twenty-fourth in problem solving when compared to their peers from thirty other industrialized nations on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

“How we fare in international education comparisons will soon correspond directly to how we fare in international economic comparisons,” Wise said. “President Obama recently laid out the goal of returning the United States to number one in the world in college graduation rates. Given the inextricable links between preparedness and college success, that goal will not be reached without significant changes to our high school system.”

Wise argued that the United States is already paying the price for students who drop out of high school. He said that had the students in the Class of 2008 who dropped out had stayed in school and graduated, the nation would have benefited from an additional $319 billion in wages, taxes, and productivity over the course of their lifetimes.

“Currently this Congress is grappling with massive economic problems, but the enormous cost of bailing out banks, financial institutions, the auto industry, and AIG is still less than the economic cost of just five years of dropouts in the United States,” he said. “We also know that just cutting the dropouts in half would begin yielding $45 billion annually in new federal tax revenues or cost savings. That is why I believe that the ultimate economic stimulus package is a diploma.”

Wise outlined several reasons why the main federal education law, ESEA, currently known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, does little to reform the nation’s high schools. He noted that the law was written mainly with elementary schools in mind and that very few of the law’s improvement and accountability provisions affect high schools.

“Unlike elementary and middle school students, high school students are tested only once in four years,” Wise said. “Most often that testing occurs in the tenth grade and does not measure what students need to graduate; instead, the testing measures ninth-grade proficiency.”

Wise argued that high schools currently have a “perverse incentive” to “push out” low test scorers because there is no accountability for high school graduation rates. As evidence, he cited an analysis finding that 40 percent of dropout factories make Adequate Yearly Progress, which prevents these schools from even entering NCLB’s accountability and improvement system.

Moving forward, Wise asked the committee to consider several fixes as it begins the reauthorization of ESEA. Specifically, he cited the need for “high, common standards that are tied to college- and work-readiness and are internationally benchmarked” and “consistent graduation rate calculations with meaningful growth targets and goals” that hold states accountable for graduating their students from high school.

He expressed support for several pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Congress including the Every Student Counts Act, the Graduation Promise Act, and the Secondary School Innovation Fund Act, as well as upcoming legislation on a comprehensive literacy program that would address the reading and writing needs of students from before kindergarten through high school.

More information about these pieces of legislation is available here

Gov. Wise’s complete testimony 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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