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Turning Around Low-Performing High Schools: Lessons For Federal Policy From Research And Practice

Event:


Sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman

Nationally, one-third of our students – about 1.2 million each year – leave high school without a diploma, and graduation rates for poor and minority students are even lower. Because the consequences are significant for individuals, communities, and the nation, identifying and solving the dropout crisis is critical to improving the long-term well-being of today’s youth and tomorrow’s economy.

At a time when Congress is grappling with how to address these issues as part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, it is critical that federal policy be informed by research and best practice. This briefing highlighted the work of leading researchers and practitioners to help provide insight into the causes and extent of the dropout crisis.

Summary

Nearly 200 educators, policymakers, Congressional staff and other key stakeholders, gathered August 16 on Capitol Hill to attend a forum addressing the role of data and technology in high school improvement.

Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, opened the forum, discussing the crisis that exists in America’s high schools, and how critical it is that the impending reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act address this crisis.

“The good news is that we know what to do about it and we are developing more knowledge every day. “ Wise commented. “We know we can pinpoint those high schools that are lowest performing and apply certain strategies to that.  We can identify the students in every high school that are most at risk of dropping out.  We know that these students and schools given the proper supports and interventions can have a different outcome than what would be expected.

“We know that good educational practice, supported by strong state and federal policies, can help ensure that every student receives the support, education, and interventions they need to successfully fulfill their potential in the 21st century economy.  Today’s event is about that intersection of sound research put into good practice, now being translated into effective policies.”

Dr. Bob Balfanz, Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at  Johns Hopkins University, provided an overview of the national graduation rate crisis and presented fresh data from the Center that identifies the nearly 2,000 “dropout factories” located across the nation. These schools have weak promoting power – the number of seniors is routinely 60 percent or fewer than the number of freshmen four years earlier.

Dr. Balfanz also discussed the characteristics of these schools and their students, and what is best known about addressing their problems. He noted that, year after year, dropout factories produce half of the nation’s dropouts: 81% of Native American dropouts, 73% of African American dropouts, 66% of Latino dropouts, and 34% of White dropouts.

Sharing lessons from research and experience with the successful and highly-respected Talent Development high school reform model, Balfanz argued that a sincere investment in improving the nation’s 2,000 dropout factories would be a strategic and manageable investment.

“With a sustained and focused effort on a relatively small set of high schools, we can fundamentally transform the nation for the better,” he said. “Put it on a bumper sticker: fix 2,000 high schools, change the world.

“This will require a sustained federal commitment to the development of a high school improvement system that will relentlessly do what it takes to transform or replace the nation’s low performing high schools,” noted Balfanz.

Dr. Elaine M. Allensworth, Co-Director for Statistical Analysis at the Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR) at the University of Chicago, discussed the findings of the Consortium’s recent report, What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago’s Public Schools: A Close Look at Course Grades, Failures, and Attendance in the Freshman Year.

Earlier CCSR research identified “on-track indicators” of high school success demonstrating relationships between poor student attendance, freshman course failure, and dropping out. The new report looks into the elements of course performance that predict whether students will graduate, and suggests ways that schools and families can keep more teens in school. It also examines how school practices affect students’ grades, failure rates, and attendance.

“Graduation is a surprisingly predictable event. We can tell with surprising accuracy who is going to eventually graduate just by looking at students’ grades in their freshman year of high school,” Allensworth said.

Because the process by which students fall off the path to graduation can be identified, Allensworth argued that we know who to target for different types of intervention, that school improvement in graduation can be tracked and forecasted, and efforts to improve graduation and preparation for college should focus on students’ performance in their courses. She also shared her findings that schools with specific features, like personalization, the connection of school relating to later success in life, and instructional coherence, are extremely successful tools.

Dr. Larry Myatt discussed the Boston Public Schools’ use of data to drive policy and practice throughout the district, particularly as it provides information regarding the design and implementation of high schools, and shared how successful efforts in Boston reflect the research shared by Balfanz and Elaine.

The common themes in presenters’ remarks reiterated that we already possess the knowledge regarding how to improve our nation’s high schools.

Bethany Little, Vice President for Policy and Federal Advocacy at the Alliance, summarized some key pieces of legislation that have been introduced reflecting the findings discussed at the event. They include the:

  • Graduation Promise Act (S. 1185 and H.R. 2928), introduced by Senators Bingaman, Burr, and Kennedy in the Senate, and Rep. Hinojosa and many cosponsors in the House, would provide $2.5 billion in new funding to turn around low-performing high schools.
  • Striving Readers (S. 958 and H.R. 2289), introduced by Senators Sessions and Murray in the Senate and Rep. Yarmouth and Platts and many cosponsors in the House, would address the literacy needs of American adolescents.
  • Every Student Counts Act (H.R. 2995)¸ introduced by Rep. Scott and many cosponsors, would improve the calculation of graduation rates and hold schools responsible for increasing graduation rates of all students, including that of subgroups of students.
  • GRADUATES Act (S. 1920 and H.R. 3763), introduced by Senators Reid, Pryor and Murray, would create a $500 million Secondary School Innovation Fund to support partnerships to create models of innovation in secondary schools.

Governor Wise closed the forum with a reminder that as No Child Left Behind reauthorization moves forward, the lessons from research and practice must be applied if we are going to reach our common national goals for students.

Key Pieces of Secondary School Legislation Pending Before Congress

AGENDA

downloadable .mp3 audio file of the entire event is available.*

I. Welcome and Introductions

wise_sm_0 2Governor Bob Wise
President, Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

 

 

 

II. National Dropout Crisis and Dropout Factories


balfanz_sm_0 2Dr. Robert Balfanz

Research Scientist, Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

Dr. Robert Balfanz’s presentation

Dr. Balfanz presented new data from the Center for Social Organization of Schools that identifies the nearly 2,000 “dropout factories” located across the nation.These schools have weak promoting power – the number of seniors is routinely 60 percent or fewer than the number of freshmen four years earlier – and produce half of the nation’s dropouts. Dr. Balfanz also discussed the characteristics of these schools and their students, and what is best known about how to address their problems.

III. What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago’s Public Schools


allensworth_sm 2Dr. Elaine M. Allensworth

Co-Director for Statistical Analysis, Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

Dr. Elaine Allensworth’s presentation

Dr. Allensworth discussed the findings of the Consortium on Chicago School Research’s recent report, What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago’s Public Schools: A Close Look at Course Grades, Failures, and Attendance in the Freshman Year.

Earlier CCSR research identified “on-track indicators” of high school success that demonstrated the relationships between poor student attendance, freshman course failure, and dropping out. The new report looks into the elements of course performance that predict whether students will graduate and suggests ways that schools and families can keep more teens in school. It also examines how school practices affect students’ grades, failure rates, and attendance.

IV. Use of Data in Boston Public Schools


myatt_sm 2Dr. Larry M. Myatt

Headmaster-on-Assignment, Office of High School Renewal, Boston Public Schools
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

Dr. Larry Myatt’s presentation

Dr. Myatt discussed the Boston Public Schools’ use of data to drive policy and practice throughout the district, particularly as it informs the design and implementation of high school improvement efforts.

 

V. Question and Answer Session

qanda_sm_0 2Moderated by Bethany Little
Vice President for Policy and Federal Advocacy, Alliance for Excellent Education
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

 

 

 

 

VI. Closing Remarks

little_sm_0 2Bethany Little
Vice President for Policy and Federal Advocacy, Alliance for Excellent Education
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

 

 

 

 

VII. Wrap Up

wise_sm_0 2Governor Bob Wise
President, Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia
VideoVideo  AudioAudio (MP3)*

 

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