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Gov. Bob Wise: Implementation of New Education Law Must Sharpen Focus on Traditionally Underserved Students and Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools

WASHINGTON, DC – During this morning’s U.S. Department of Education (ED) public meeting on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise praised high school reform provisions within ESSA, but urged ED to clarify the law’s focus on traditionally underserved students and the nation’s lowest-performing high schools.

“ESSA keeps the nation’s foot on the high school graduation rate gas pedal by maintaining federal policy from both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations that, along with hard-working educators, parents, and students, have led to the highest graduation rate on record at 82.3 percent for the 2013–14 school year,” said Wise.

Wise also recognized that much more work needs to be done.

“Even with those gains, one in five students drops out every year—that’s more than 4,000 students every school day,” Wise said. “Additionally, there remain 1,235 high schools serving nationwide that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students. These schools disproportionately enroll students of color and students from low-income communities. Graduation rate gaps also remain prevalent. In fact, over the past four years, the gap in high school graduation rates between Latino and white students grew in nine states. The gap between African American and white students grew in ten states.”

Recognizing the attention paid to the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates, Wise argued that increases in high school graduation rates would provide a longer-term benefit.

“For the short-term impact on the nation’s economy, the Federal Reserve’s raising of interest rates has generated a lot of attention, but over the long term, rising graduation rates are much more important for the nation’s economy,” Wise said. “According to research released by the Alliance for Excellent Education in December, increasing the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent would likely create 65,150 new jobs and boost gross domestic product by $11.5 billion annually. And that is for just one class of dropouts.”

As ED works to issue regulations for ESSA, Wise encouraged it to ensure that graduation rate gaps between different groups of students are addressed and high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students are appropriately targeted for intervention and support.

Specifically, Wise offered five recommendations for ED:

“The nation has made tremendous progress in increasing the high school graduation rate,” Wise said, “but more work is necessary to preserve the gains already made. Graduation rate gaps between different groups of students need to be addressed, and high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students need to be targeted to ensure that all students—regardless of their background or zip code—have access to a high-quality education that will secure their individual futures, as well as that of the nation.”

Wise’s complete testimony is available at The Alliance for Excellent Education will submit additional details on these and other recommendations in response to ED’s Request for Information.

For everything needed to know about ESSA, the Alliance created a series of bite-sized materials—both print and video—that provides concise yet comprehensive analyses of several key areas within ESSA, including accountability, assessments, high schools, and teachers and leaders. This information is available at


The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.