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High School Reform

Ohanian Comment: I have a great fear that our professional organizations are participating in this so they can get a piece of the pie. Some months ago, NCTE and IRA made available a draft of their proposal for creating literacy coaches. I registered my protest in great deal. I'm not against literacy coaches but I'm against the corporate language in which NCTE/IRA framed the proposal. Now I see where the enthusiasm for literacy coaches is coming from: upcoming government funds.

What we have here is Reading First for high schools. Our golobally competitive workforce. Yadda yadda yadda. Note the use of the word rigorous. Look it up in the dictionary.

This policy brief leaves out critical information. Governor Warner is looking to run for President in 2008. In February, he chaired a two-day summit co-sponsored by the National Governors Association and Achieve. Bill Gates, the keynote speaker, got enthusiastic and pledged a few million to this effort to overhaul high schools.

Writing in USA Today, Greg Toppo quoted George Mason University professor Gerald Bracey's skepticism. Bracey said the effort is less about education than power and control. "People have been saying this about schools ever since the Cold War," he said. "There's nothing in the 'new' message that wasn't in Life magazine in 1958 or A Nation At Risk in 1983. The critics always say that the kids are not learning what they need to know, but they never say what that is."

It looks like NCTE set up a Washington D. C. office to be closer to the millions and billions coming down the pipeline.

I can't begin to describe how heartsick I am. Until today, NCTE was my professional organization. Now I'd like to nominate the organization for the Doublespeak Award.

Revolution is the only possibility. We need to dump the tea in the harbor.

NOTE: The following policy brief, prepared by our Washington, DC legislative counsel, provides further background on legislative issues in Congress. We include it only as a background reference point to apprise you of important legislation of interest to NCTE members. Use as an “as needed” resource.

High School Reform


The high school reform movement has gained substantial momentum over the last several years as the President, Congress and many national policy organizations, foundations and even the media have begun to focus on dropout rates, adolescent literacy and the urgent need to update our secondary schools for the 21st century.

Federal resources for high school students and programs are limited and spread across several laws. Currently, there is no significant federal funding targeted exclusively to high schools. In fact, only 5 percent of funding from Title I, the chief federal program for disadvantaged students, goes to high schools. Interestingly, the national discussion about high schools has taken center stage just as Congress gears up to reauthorize several significant pieces of legislation that impact high schools – the Higher Education Act, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (Perkins), and the Workforce Investment Act. The debates that will take place during the reauthorization of each of these laws will have consequences for the survival of the high school reform movement. In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) remains an ongoing issue of discussion, as members of Congress continue to introduce bills to alter the legislation, which will need to be reauthorized in 2007.

Policymakers, at both the state and federal level, have more recently started to pay attention to these issues. In the 108th Congress, comprehensive legislation designed to improve high schools was introduced in both the House and Senate. The new chairman of the National Governors Association, Governor Mark Warner (D-VA), launched a year-long initiative designed to help governors reform high school education in their states. Throughout his campaign, in the first weeks of his second term and again in his Fiscal Year 2006 budget request, President Bush pledged his commitment to high school reform by proposing a new High School Initiative.

President Bush’s High School Initiative

The goal of President Bush’s High School Initiative (HSI) aims to “ensure that every student graduates from high school with the skills to succeed in either higher education or our globally competitive workforce.” The High School Initiative includes $1.5 billion for interventions and assessments and an additional $329 million for related proposals for high-quality high school programs.

* High School Intervention - $1.24 billion: This would fund formula grants to states to fund competitive grants to districts for implementing interventions in secondary schools to increase student achievement; eliminate racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps; and to graduate all students prepared for postsecondary education and the 21st century workforce.
* High School Assessments - $250 million: This initiative would require states to administer valid and reliable testing in language arts and mathematics in at least three grades during high school, by the year 2009-2010. Funding would be provided in formula grants to states. [This funding is in addition to the $411.7 million requested for states to meet current assessment requirement in grades 3-8 as currently required by NCLB.]
* Striving Readers - $200 million: This would increase funding for the new program by $175.2 million to test a variety of adolescent literacy interventions through experimental studies to assess their effectiveness, and disseminate the results widely to school districts and schools.
* State Scholars: Capacity Building - $12 million/Enhanced Pell Grants - $33 million: Through the State Scholars Program, state-level business and education partnerships encourage high school students to complete a rigorous curriculum in the core academic subjects, including four years of English, three years each of mathematics and science, three and a half years of social studies, and two years of a foreign language. Under this request, the Center for State Scholars could expand from supporting 12 states to approximately 26 states. This program would provide up to an additional $1,000 to Pell Grant-eligible students completing the rigorous State Scholar curriculum in high school. Funding would be capped at $33 million for FY 2006.


While the education community and members of Congress agree that high school reform is needed, support for the President’s proposed initiative is tepid at best, as it comes at the cost of eliminating many other widely supported programs. As was stated by one education advocate at the Department of Education’s budget briefing in February, the Administration has chosen to “rob Peter to pay Paul” by eliminating a total of 48 programs from the Department of Education, including vocational education and teacher quality enhancement grants.

There is great interest in providing funding for high schools, but without increasing the overall budget at the Department of Education, funds for high schools will have to come out of other accounts. While some of the President’s proposed cuts are likely to be made, members of Congress will not support the elimination of popular programs such as vocational education. In fact, key House Republicans have already publicly gone on record in opposition to the President’s plan to cut existing programs in order to fund his new High School Initiative.

Governors’ Initiative - “Redesigning the American High School”

As education is primarily a state function, not a federal responsibility, it is not surprising that NGA Chairman Governor Mark Warner (D-VA) launched a year-long initiative - Redesigning the American High School – to address the urgent need to improve high schools.

Warner and the NGA have provided governors with a five-point state action agenda for high school redesign and a list of “10 Steps” for getting started on this agenda. The action agenda calls on governors to develop a comprehensive plan for their states to:

* Restore value to the high school diploma;
* Redesign high schools;
* Give high school students the excellent teachers and principals they need;
* Set goals, measure progress, and hold high schools and colleges accountable; and
* Streamline and improve educational governance.

The NGA has also provided a compilation of promising state and local practices to implement these 10 recommendations; begun a series of town hall meetings across the country to gather feedback; and released recommendations for common state data collection of high school graduation and dropout rates to complete the initiative's major activities. Most of the nation’s governors participated in a National Education Summit on High Schools in Washington, DC in February to discuss all of these issues.

Thirteen governors have also joined the American Diploma Project (ADP) Network, a coalition dedicated to spearheading a national movement to align standards, assessments, curriculum and accountability with the demands of postsecondary education and work. By joining the ADP Network, these governors committed their states - which together educate more than a third of all U.S. students – to create a plan to:

* Raise high school standards to the level of what is actually required to succeed in college or in the workforce;
* Require all students to take rigorous college and work-ready curriculum;
* Develop tests of college and work readiness that all students will take in high school; and
* Hold high schools accountable for graduating all students ready for college and work; and
* Hold colleges accountable for the success of the students they admit.

Congress – Legislative Initiatives

Two pieces of comprehensive high school legislation have been (or are about to be) introduced in the 109th Congress to address the nation’s staggering high school dropout rate, and to focus the attention of policymakers on the need for reform in the middle and high school arena. The Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in the 108th Congress and is expected to be reintroduced in early 2005. The Graduation for All Act, first introduced in the 108th Congress, was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Susan Davis (D-CA).

Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act

As introduced in the 108th Congress, the PASS Act would provide $1 billion for the establishment of effective, research-based reading and writing programs for students in grades 6 through 12 and for secondary schools to hire literacy coaches (at least one per 20 teachers), who would help teachers incorporate research-based literacy instruction across the curriculum. The bill would also provided $2 billion to support the hiring and placement of Academic Counselors (at a rate of no less than one Academic Counselor to 150 students) to work directly with students, parents and teachers to develop six-year plans outlining the path each student in a high-need school will take to reach his or her goals and to coordinate resources. Lastly, the PASS Act would provide $500 million for districts to identify, develop, and implement, reforms that turn around low-performing schools and improve student achievement. Districts receiving grant funds would be required to have a rigorous outside evaluation of the success of their high school reforms, and the results of these evaluations would be used to help other challenged high schools improve.


In the 108th Congress, the PASS Act was cosponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Tom Daschle (D-SD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Although the PASS Act has not yet been reintroduced, we expect Senator Murray to do so in the coming weeks. Proposed changes to the bill include an additional $1 billion for math coaches and an additional $100 million for competitive grants to states to develop or increase their data collection capacities and to help districts develop longitudinal data systems.

The Graduation for All Act

This piece of legislation would provide $1 billion in federal funding for schools to place literacy coaches in high schools and implement individualized graduation plans for students most at-risk of dropping out of high school. Funding would be specifically targeted at schools with the lowest graduation rates and would provide funding for at least one literacy coach for every high-need middle and high school.

The bill also requires that graduation rates be reported disaggregated by race, ethnicity, income, disability status, and limited English proficiency status as found under the No Child Left Behind Act; states and school districts would also set annual measurable objectives for improving graduation rates. The bill also requires school districts to report the number of high school-age youth who have left school, but are enrolled in adult education or other GED programs.


The bill (H.R. 547) was introduced on February 2, 2005 and referred to the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Education Reform. As of March 8, the bill enjoyed bipartisan support from 74 cosponsors.

Policy Brief





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