8:00 am – 10:00 am EDT Union League Club Chicago, Illinois
On December 10, 2007, amid growing speculation over whether the U.S. Congress would reauthorize the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2008, the Alliance for Excellent Education and Catalyst Chicago convened a panel of experts to discuss ways that the law should be changed to be more supportive of local high school reform efforts—whenever reauthorization takes place. While noting that the city’s dropout rate is declining, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Schools Chief Arne Duncan indicated that the numbers are still too high, noting that the district is losing as many as 13,000 students a year, with attrition highest among African American and Latino students; their dropout rates are 48 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
Discussion at the event focused on two areas of significant concern: accountability and school improvement. Bethany Little, vice president for policy and federal advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, noted that NCLB is in need of improvement when it comes to graduation rate accountability. The current lack of accountability on graduation rates can result in the “push-out” of students whose test scores may not be a boon to the school, impacting poor and minority students to the greatest degree. John Easton, executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, noted that test scores and graduation rates are key benchmarks that a newly authorized No Child Left Behind should be required to track. Currently, the law holds high schools responsible only for test scores. “We have to push for standards and measurements that are the same across the country,” said Easton. Allan Alson, executive director of High School Transformation for CPS, concurred, suggesting that the law’s accountability measures should extend to post-graduation data, such as college enrollment figures.
Little noted that “there has been a misconception that if you education children in the early years, they are set.” “But,” she said, “education is like nutrition. Students need a steady dose over the long term to be successful.” Congressional members are increasingly coming to understand this, Little noted, pointing out that Congress is currently considering legislation focused on high school improvement. The Graduation Promise Act, for instance, would provide $2.5 billion for school districts and states to use on research-based reforms in low-performing high schools. The Act is designed to boost student achievement, lower dropout rates, and fund research to develop effective models of high school change.
Another pending legislative proposal in Congress is the Every Student Counts Act, a proposed law that would require states to adopt a common measure for graduation rates. Currently, graduation rates are developed and reported through a patchwork of formulas that are not comparable from district to district. The Act would also amend No Child Left Behind to mandate that high schools increase their graduation rates to at least 90 percent.
There are five other major education bills pending in the U.S. House or Senate that are aimed at improving achievement and attainment in America’s secondary schools. They are focused on improving student literacy, creating useful data systems, creating partnerships with outside organizations to boost achievement, and targeting needed supports to middle-grade students.
The forum’s keynote speaker, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, while acknowledging the important role of NCLB and federal policy, suggested that given the current political climate, Chicago’s educators and experts should not wait for Washington to act; rather, he urged them to continue working at their local reform efforts. While noting that he shares a house in Washington, D.C. with House Education Committee Chairman George Miller, who remains committed to reauthorizing NCLB in 2008, Durbin pointed out that a presidential campaign year might pose significant challenges to that timetable.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, commended Chicago area leaders such as Janice Jackson, principal of Al Raby High School for Community and Environment, for their commitment to improving student achievement and their collaborative work to bring about systemic change that will support greater achievement. Noting that the federal investment for middle and secondary school students pales in comparison to that made for students at the elementary grades and in college, Wise noted that with much-needed increased federal support, more progress can be realized for Chicago area students.
In addition to the Alliance for Excellent Education and Catalyst Chicago, the event, which drew approximately 150 people to Chicago’s Union League Club, was cosponsored by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, The Chicago Community Trust, and The Woods Fund of Chicago.
I. Welcome and Introductions
II. The Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) High School Reform Story
Arne Duncan, CEO, Chicago Public Schools Video (Windows Media)
III. Local Lessons with National Implications: CPS’ Approach to Accountability and School Improvement
With a number of major high school initiatives, Chicago Public Schools offers an important perspective on key issues in the federal high school reform conversation. Among those issues are: the use of data to drive school improvement and student achievement; providing multiple pathways to graduation; turning around low-performing high schools; ensuring accountability for graduation rates; and the importance of other indicators in determining school and student performance. Video (Windows Media)
Allan Alson, Executive Director, High School Transformation, Chicago Public Schools
John Easton, Executive Director, Consortium on Chicago School Research
Bethany Little, Vice President of Federal Advocacy and Policy Development, Alliance for Excellent Education
Janice Jackson, Principal, Al Raby High School for Community and Environment
Linda Lenz, Founder, Catalyst Chicago magazine (moderator)
IV. Keynote Address
Federal Policy Possibilities for Support of Local High School Reform Efforts: An Update on NCLB Reauthorization
U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, Assistant Majority Leader; Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Video (Windows Media)
V. Question & Answer Video (Windows Media)