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The Nation’s Middle and High School Students Ignored by No Child Left Behind

Press Release:

The Nation’s Middle and High School Students Ignored by No Child Left Behind

Congress is currently considering changes in major federal education law; as part of the process, they must recognize that the pressing needs of the nation’s 14.3 million high school students, including the 30 percent who do not graduate on time with a regular diploma, are not being met by the existing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Federal neglect of secondary schools is described in a new policy brief, In Need of Improvement: NCLB and High Schools, from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“While well-intentioned,” states Bob Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, “the current NCLB simply does not address the dropout problem and permits far too many students to finish high school without adequate preparation for college or the modern workforce.” Nationally, 30 percent of high school students entering ninth grade do not graduate within four years.

While the existing NCLB focuses on improving outcomes for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, In Need of Improvement: NCLB and High Schools points outthat high schools do not receive the attention and investment needed to support their students’ continuing academic success. The nation’s high school students are shortchanged by the existing NCLB because:

  1. only a small percentage of high school students are actually covered by federal Title I funding, leaving far too many high schools without the requirements or resources to implement improvement strategies.
  2. NCLB holds schools accountable for test scores, but does not effectively hold high schools accountable for whether their students actually graduate.
  3. 71 percent of the nation’s eighth graders read below a proficient level, yet there is no federal effort to improve reading and comprehension in middle and high school as there is in grades K-3.
  4. the limited tools NCLB provides to improve low-performing schools reflect neither research nor best practice and are not effective for high school reform.

Wise continues, “The present NCLB does not effectively reach high schools, and too many children are being left behind by the ninth grade. With the law up for renewal this year, this is the time to build on the ideals of ‘no child left behind’ and pass legislation that will lead the nation toward ‘every child a graduate.’”

Instead of what the brief calls “shortsighted proposals” that merely extend testing requirements to high schools or simply reserve portions of current funding streams for high schools, the Alliance calls on Congress to reauthorize NCLB with a “a systemic solution that reflects all that is known about improving high schools from research and best practice.”

According to Wise, “Research and best practice have demonstrated that there is no excuse for failing to address the needs of our high school students. NCLB reauthorization must include provisions to improve the calculation of graduation rates, invest in data systems, support educators, drive meaningful accountability linked to high school improvement, and ensure the necessary resources and capacity to provide an excellent education for every student. Some of these issues are addressed in existing proposals from Members of Congress, including the Striving Readers Act of 2007 (S. 958 and H.R. 2289) and the Graduation Promise Act (S. 1185).”

In Need of Improvement: NCLB and High Schools is available 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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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.