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Senate HELP Committee Passes Bill that Would Improve the Nation’s High Schools

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June 13, 2013 02:52 pm

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On June 11th and 12th,  the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a markup on a bill known as the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013 (SASA). Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced SASA and all the democratic members of the HELP committee co-sponsored it on June 4th, 2013. Harkin’s bill aims to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and maintains a significant amount of the language from the 2011 version of the bill while adding key provisions that would benefit high schools and students. On June 12th, SASA passed out of the HELP Committee along party lines, with all twelve Democratic Committee members voting in favor of the bill and all ten Republican Committee members voting against the bill.

SASA includes a number of provisions to improve the nation’s high schools. Currently, high schools in the United States serve 22 percent of students from low-income families yet receive only 10 percent of Title I funding. Under SASA, more of the nation’s low-performing high schools would be eligible to receive increased funding, attention, and intervention, benefitting the large number of low-income students and students of color most likely to attend these schools. Some key provisions of SASA include:

  • Identifying for targeted intervention the lowest achieving 5 percent of secondary schools and any public high school with a graduation rate less than 60 percent
  • Identifying for intervention any public high school that is within the 10 percent of schools with the greatest graduation rate gaps among subgroups as compared to statewide average
  • An accurate definition of the 4-year adjusted cohort rate and precluding the use of other rates in determining the graduation rate
  • Strengthening language to help prepare all students for college and career by equipping them with Deeper Learning skills such as the ability to apply rigorous academic content to real world situations, think critically and solve complex problems.
  • Revising the Pathways to College initiative to better align with the President’s FY 2014 budget request for a High School Redesign program, emphasizing the importance of rigorous academic content, applied and work-based learning opportunities, partnerships, and wraparound supports, all reflective of the Linked Learning approach being implemented in a number of districts in California.
  • A new competency pilot that permits states, or consortia of states, to incorporate competency into their statewide accountability system. Under the pilot, states will utilize a system of formative, interim, and summative assessments, including performance assessments.

Other key provisions include: using more accurate and standardized measures of poverty at the secondary school level, an increased focus on improving school climate and providing wraparound supports, and expanding standards and assessments to support instructional practices.

The next step is bringing SASA to the floor of the Senate which could happen this summer. Next week attention turns to the House of Representatives, where the Education and Workforce Committee with be marking a republican bill to reauthorize ESEA. If both bills pass out of Committee and then pass on the floor, they will be sent to conference where both the House and the Senate will work to bridge the large divide between the two bills.

Although this is the first of many steps towards the reauthorization of ESEA, SASA moves the ball forward in ensuring that the nation’s high schools with the greatest need, and the students who attend those schools, receive the most effective support.

Jessica Cardichon is the Director of Federal Advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education

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