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Hagan, Whitehouse Introduce Bill to Foster Innovation and Reform at Low-Performing Secondary Schools

Thursday, June 30, 2011

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Kay R. Hagan (NC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), both members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) committee, today introduced legislation to foster innovation and reform in our nation's low-performing high schools and middle schools. The Secondary School Reform Act focuses on combatting the country's dropout crisis and ensuring that our schools prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed upon graduation.

"Without a high school diploma, our young people face a lifetime of lower wages and limited opportunities," said Hagan, who is leading a group of moderate Senators pushing for commonsense reforms to federal education law. "We need to identify students at risk of dropping out early and provide schools with the resources and flexibility required to lead them to success. At the same time, we must encourage innovation in our low-performing high schools so every child possesses the tools to achieve in today's 21st century economy. I look forward to working with Senator Whitehouse and all of my colleagues in a bipartisan matter to include the Secondary School Reform Act in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind."

"It is vital that we strengthen our nation's middle schools to better prepare students for high school and beyond," said Whitehouse, who earlier this year introduced the Success in the Middle Act to help disadvantaged middle grade students. "This bill will encourage smart reforms in the middle grades and in high schools to improve education for kids in Rhode Island and throughout the country."

The United States currently ranks 18th out of 26 industrialized countries in the proportion of students who graduate from high school. Nationwide, about a quarter of high school students do not graduate on time, and of those that do, 75 percent are not ready for college. Amongst minority students, the graduation rates are even more troubling: only about 54 percent of American Indian students, 57 percent of African American students and 58 percent of Latino students graduate on time. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the lost lifetime earnings for a single class of dropouts totals more than $337 billion.

The Secondary School Reform Act makes improvements to our federal education policies required to reduce the country's unsustainable dropout rate and promote effective reforms at not only low-performing high schools, but also the middle schools that feed to them. The legislation creates a grant program where high-need school districts partner with external organizations, such as non-profits and institutions of higher learning, to compete for funds to implement effective secondary school reforms, including:

· District-wide reforms to identify and address the needs of students at risk of dropping out or students who have already dropped out
· School-wide reforms, such as personalizing the school experience, providing high-quality professional development for teachers and school leadership teams, and developing individual graduate plans for students, at underperforming high schools and the middle schools that feed into them
· Implementation of evidence-based reform models in targeted schools, such as Early College Schools where students simultaneously earn high school and college credit

The Secondary School Reform Act is supported by a number of renowned education organizations, including Alliance for Excellent Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, College Summit, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Jobs for the Future, Everyone Graduates Center, First Focus, and National Indian Education Association. For the letter of support from these organizations, click here.

Last month, Hagan introduced her School Turnaround and Rewards (STAR) Act, which would target the bottom 5 percent of schools in each state to implement an intervention model ensuring significant changes to the structure and operation of the school. For more on the STAR Act, click here.

In March, Hagan led 10 other moderate U.S. Senators in pushing principles for education reform, which are supported by Secretary Duncan. For more information, click here.

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