If you liked the way that elementary schools were blamed for the poverty that they have no power to correct, there is more in store for the American high school if Spellings and the "no excuses" sorority sisters at Ed Trust get their way. And like the previous NCLB cover-up story, this round of blaming the public schools is brought to you by the same heartfelt conservative moral indignation that sets in when black teenagers drop out of school. After 150 years of ignoring the problem, the pain must be deep.
Washington hasn't focused much attention on the problem [dropouts]. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, pays much more attention to educating younger students. But that appears to be changing.
House and Senate proposals to renew the 5-year-old No Child law would give high schools more federal money and put more pressure on them to improve on graduation performance, and the Bush administration supports that idea.
The current NCLB law imposes serious consequences on schools that report low scores on math and reading tests, and this fallout can include replacement of teachers or principals or both. But the law doesn't have the same kind of enforcement teeth when it comes to graduation rates.
Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma. For Hispanic and black students, the proportion drops to about half.
The legislative proposals circulating in Congress would:
Make sure schools report their graduation rates by racial, ethnic, and other subgroups and are judged on those results. That's to ensure that schools aren't just graduating white students in high numbers, but also are working to ensure that minority students get diplomas.
Get states to build data systems to keep track of students throughout their school years and more accurately measure graduation and dropout rates.
Ensure that states count graduation rates in a uniform way. States have used a variety of formulas, including counting the percentage of entering seniors who get a diploma. That measurement ignores the obvious fact that kids who drop out typically do so before their senior year.
Create strong progress goals for graduation rates and impose sanctions on schools that miss those benchmarks. Most states currently lack meaningful goals, according to The Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for poor and minority children.The current law requires testing in reading and math once in high school, and those tests take on added importance because of the serious consequences for a school of failure. Critics say that creates a perverse incentive for schools to encourage kids to drop out before they bring down a school's score. . . .