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High School Advocates Push Interests in ESEA Renewal

As lawmakers discuss updating the No Child Left Behind Act, a coalition of civil rights groups sought their attention this week for inclusion of key pieces to improve high schools for disadvantaged students.

In a Congressional briefing June 7, the Campaign for High School Equity released its "Plan for Success," which is aimed at building strong high school-improvement levers into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known in its current version as NCLB).

The coalition wants lawmakers to include provisions that would require schools to make sure that all students are proficient in the skills required for college or careers. That could be accomplished by adopting the common core state standards, CHSE says, or "in partnership with" organizations working to align state standards with the expectations of colleges and the workplace. Curricula, tests and instruction would all have to be beefed up to reflect those higher standards, the plan says.

Students, especially those in underfunded schools, must have access to rigorous curricula, and states should be required to report to the public their schools' success providing access to a college-prep curriculum, and on course-taking patterns by students' gender, income, race and ethnicity.

The accountability provisions that CHSE argues for include requiring schools to show improvement in their disaggregated graduation-rate data over time, and to give equal weight to grad rates and student test scores on "high quality" tests aligned to college readiness in determining school effectiveness.

Some of these ideas are already enshrined in federal regulations adopted in 2008. Those rules require schools to use the same method of calculating graduation rates—the "cohort" approach, which tells us what portion of students from each freshman class graduates four years later.

Those regulations also require schools to use disaggregated graduation rates for determining "adequate yearly progress" under NCLB, a step up in stakes from the old way, which required schools only to publicly report that information. Those rules also upped the NCLB ante by requiring not just "improvement" in grad rates, but "continuous and substantial" improvement. They also tightened things up by excluding GED recipients from schools' counts of "graduates."

The CHSE plan also addresses ways to build in supports for struggling students, expand the pipeline of good teachers and principals for low-performing schools, and channel more support to schools falling short of solid achievement. For instance, it advocates creating a special federal funding stream to turn around lagging middle and high schools, noting that secondary schools get a disproportionately low share of Title I funding.

All of this leaves unanswered the question, of course, of whether the ESEA will be reauthorized anytime soon. The U.S. Ed Department is making noises about shifting NCLB requirements by granting waivers instead; stay tuned for more on that.

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