Legislation focuses on innovation and reform in middle and high schools
May 4, 2009
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid today introduced the Secondary School Innovation Fund, a bill designed to improve No Child Left Behind by developing innovative approaches to improving student achievement in Nevada’s middle and high schools.
“We need innovative approaches to help improve student achievement and graduation rates, otherwise our secondary schools will continue to struggle to produce students ready for higher education and the workforce,” Reid said. “Realigning secondary schools to meet new, demanding requirements and competition requires effective, systemic reform. That’s what this bill sets out to accomplish.”
The Secondary School Innovation Fund would:
- Provide grants to partnerships between state education agencies or school districts with institutes of higher education, community-based organizations, non-profits, businesses, or school development organizations to create innovative models of reform in our nation’s secondary schools.
- Create evidence-based, systemic and replicable models of reform in secondary schools that improve student achievement and prepare students to succeed in post-secondary education and the 21st Century workforce.
- Support a variety of strategies for innovation in secondary schools such as multiple pathways, personalization and smaller learning communities, early college and dual enrollment, career academies, improved transitions and alignment, expanded learning time, post-secondary and work-based learning opportunities, increased autonomy and flexibility at the school level, improved learning opportunities in rural schools, enhanced parental and community involvement, and increasing rigor at all levels of secondary education, including middle grades, aligned with post-secondary education and the workforce.
- Provide for research, evaluation and accountability to ensure that federal funding would only be sustained for programs with demonstrated improvement in student achievement. The Secretary of Education would distribute “best practices” based on the research and evaluation.
- Authorize $500 million in competitive grants for six years.
With a high school diploma being the minimum qualification necessary to support a decent job, too many students in Nevada and around the country are allowed to fall off the path to prosperity. Only one third of the students who begin ninth grade this fall will graduate prepared for college or the workforce. The remaining two thirds will either leave school without the skills they need to succeed, or they will not graduate at all.
Below are Reid’s remarks as prepared for the record.
“M. President, in our global economy, a high school diploma has become the minimum qualification necessary for a good job. Yet only about a third of the students who enter ninth grade each fall will graduate four years later prepared for college or the workforce.
“Another third will leave high school with a diploma, but without the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. And yet another third won’t graduate from high school within four years, if at all.
“This trend, across thousands of our nation’s schools, robs millions of young Americans – particularly poor and minority students – of their best chances to succeed.
“Students in Nevada are hit particularly hard. Less than 70 percent of high school students in my home state graduate on time. For African American and Latino students, that number is closer to 50 percent. Nearly 20,000 students in Nevada who started school with the class of 2008 did not graduate with their peers.
“Leaving these students behind hurts our economy in both the short- and long-run. These students will cost the state’s economy an estimated $5.1 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes, and will earn an average of almost $10,000 less each year compared to their classmates who finished high school.
“Almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs require some postsecondary education. We can no longer afford to ignore our unacceptable graduation rates. We can no longer afford to look the other while more and more students remain unprepared to compete in the global economy. It’s not right for these students, and it’s not right for our economy.
“That is why Senators Murray and Pryor and I are introducing the Secondary School Innovation Fund, a bill to improve the education our students get in America’s secondary schools. Our future competitiveness depends on our ability to transform our nation’s middle- and high-schools to meet the needs of the 21st century. This legislation aims to address some of these challenges.
“Many of our high schools are too large and impersonal. They lack the rigor and high expectations that we must set for all of our students. And, of course, many of the problems that lead students to lose interest or drop out of school begin at the middle-school level.
“To meet the challenges of this economy and prepare our young people for life after high school, we must give our middle and high schools the opportunity to try new ideas and approaches that will improve students’ performance and their graduation rates.
“We must take proven ideas and put them in the schools that need them the most:
- extending the school day or year;
- dividing large urban schools into smaller, more personal learning academies;
- expanding summer learning opportunities for middle-school students; or
- partnering schools with colleges and universities to allow high school students to take and receive credit for college-level courses.
“The good news is that schools throughout my home state of Nevada, and across the country, have already started implementing these sorts of innovative strategies:
“The Clark County Schools District in southern Nevada – the nation’s fifth largest and one of the fastest growing – has opened some of the most cutting-edge career and technical academies in the country. With programs in engineering and design, medical occupations, and media communications, a visitor to one of these new academies might think they were on a university campus.
“In northern Nevada, the Washoe County School District has teamed up with one of the local community colleges. The Truckee Meadows Community College High School now allows students to take a combination of college and high school courses, and they get credit on both levels. Not only do these students complete more challenging, college-level coursework, but they are laying the groundwork for success after high school.
“Encouraging our secondary schools to meet new, demanding and competitive requirements requires replicating these types of school models. But they need adequate federal support to do so. The Secondary School Innovation Fund gives them just that.
“President Obama and Secretary Duncan know this as well. The budget we passed last week proposes a similar fund that would promote innovation and excellence in America’s schools. And the economic recovery plan that we passed earlier this year includes unprecedented funding for improving and reforming our education systems. It also creates a $5 billion “Race to the Top Fund” that rewards states and districts for innovation.
“This bill would give states, districts, schools, institutes of higher education, businesses and community-based organizations $500 million in competitive grants in each of the next six years to reform in our nation’s secondary schools. By supporting a variety of strategies for innovation and creating evidence-based, systemic and replicable models of reform, we will improve student achievement and prepare them to succeed in school and then in the workforce.
“We also know that every dollar we spend belongs to the Americans people. That is why we will only help programs that can demonstrate that their students are improving.
“Democrats are committed to expanding educational opportunities for all Americans and preparing them to succeed in the global economy. We must give them the best chance to achieve their full potential, and this bill will help make that possible. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this legislation.”
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