New Legislation Responds to Mayors' Calls to Improve High Schools and College Access
By J.D. LaRock
September 8, 2003
Just two months after the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) adopted resolutions at the Annual Meeting in Denver in June calling for dramatic improvements in American high schools, Senator Patty Murray (WA) has proposed legislation that would expand the federal government's commitment to secondary school reform. In August, Sen. Murray introduced S. 1554, the "Pathways for All Students to Succeed Act," or PASS Act. Its goal, says the Senator, is to ensure that students in America's high schools receive the same federal attention that the No Child Left Behind Act provides for elementary school students.
Several groups, including the Conference, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, have raised strong concerns that the No Child Left Behind Act does not adequately address stagnant and declining performance among the nation's high school students. According to federal statistics, the nation's overall high school graduation rate is just 69 percent. Each school day, roughly 3,000 secondary school students drop out of school, and about 540,000 students will leave school without attaining a high school diploma in 2003. Moreover, while the reading scores of American 4th-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has risen in recent years reflecting increased federal, state, and local investment in elementary education the average performance of 8th and 12th-graders has remained constant or decreased. On the 2002 NAEP, for example, 33 percent of 12th-grade boys and 20 percent of 12th-grade girls scored "below basic" in reading.
The PASS Act aims to address these disturbing trends by creating "Reading to Succeed," a $1 billion grant program modeled after the "Reading First" program in the No Child Left Behind Act. Under Reading to Succeed, school districts can apply for grants to allow secondary schools to hire literacy coaches, who will help teachers incorporate research-based literacy instruction into core academic courses such as mathematics, science, history, geography, and language arts. The literacy coaches will also help teachers identify students who need additional reading instruction, assess those students to determine their needs, and coordinate services to ensure students receive extra help. The Reading to Succeed program would also allow funds to be used for teacher training, curriculum improvement, and diagnostic assessments, among other things.
At the Conference of Mayors June 2003 Annual Meeting, the mayors adopted a resolution calling on Congress to "pass and fund legislation that establishes an adolescent reading program similar to Reading First, but focused on middle and high school students to ensure that they have the skills to complete high school, attend college, and be a part of America's 21st-century workforce." Sen. Murray's bill effectively responds to the mayors' resolution.
"We know that good high schools are not just important for our children's future," said Sen. Murray. "They also help build strong communities and local economies. I-m pleased the U.S. Conference of Mayors supports the need for more federal involvement in high school reform and college access. All of us must work together to ensure our students succeed."
In fact, the PASS Act also responds to another resolution adopted by the Conference of Mayors last June calling for continued and expanded Congressional support for federal programs that increase high school students' access to collegeTitle II of the PASS Act, "Creating Pathways to Success," provides $2 billion to support the hiring and placement of academic counselors in high-need secondary schools, at a rate of one counselor for every 150 students. Counselors will work directly with students, parents, and teachers to develop six-year plans outlining the path students will take to achieve their academic goals, including articulation to college. Counselors will also coordinate resources from existing federal college access programs to help ensure students' smooth transition from high school to college. In exchange, schools receiving grant funds must ensure that a rigorous college preparatory curriculum is available to all students, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. In 1998, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called for an additional 100,000 counselors on schools nationwide.
The PASS Act would also establish a $500 million grant program that will allow school districts to implement reforms aimed at turning around high schools designated as "in need of improvement" under the No Child Left Behind Act. School districts would receive support to, for example, break up large, low-performing schools into small academies, or work with universities, non-profit organizations and research institutions to develop and adapt successful school reform models.
About 800 high schools nationwide have been identified as needing improvement so far this year. However, many states have yet to release their lists of low-performing schools as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, which means the final number could be much higher.