Revisions and updates are included. The Bush administration is planning to establish a standardized method for states to calculate and disclose their graduation rates. However, this could pose challenges for high schools trying to avoid accountability measures under the No Child Left Behind Act. As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to improve the implementation of the NCLB law, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that she would propose regulations to ensure that all states use the same formula to determine the number of students graduating from high school on time.
Secretary Spellings also stated that this data would be made public, allowing people across the country to compare the performance of students from different racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds. However, many details about this forthcoming policy remain undisclosed, leaving several questions unanswered.
The Secretary emphasized the necessity of federal involvement in this matter, as states often release graduation rate data that inaccurately accounts for all students who drop out of school. Gary M. Huggins, the director of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind, responded favorably to the announcement, stating that it is a significant step towards transparency. However, the specific formula to be proposed by the Secretary and the potential accountability for graduation rates among different student subgroups were not clarified.
Additionally, Secretary Spellings did not mention whether the Education Department would mandate states to set ambitious targets for improving graduation rates. According to Bethany Little, the vice president for policy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, most states allow high schools and school districts to evade accountability measures despite making minimal progress in enhancing graduation rates. While a standardized graduation rate formula is undoubtedly crucial, Ms. Little emphasized that it alone is insufficient. The Education Department intends to present a formal proposal by the conclusion of April, according to Secretary Spellings.
At an event where the America’s Promise Alliance announced plans to host "summit" meetings in 50 states and major cities to address the dropout crisis, Secretary Spellings unveiled her intentions. The America’s Promise Alliance, founded by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and led by his wife, Alma J. Powell, aims to increase the high school graduation rate. Research suggests that approximately 70% of students graduate within four years of starting high school, with African-Americans and Hispanics experiencing slightly lower on-time graduation rates.
Secretary Spellings’ proposal builds upon a previous national initiative to enhance data accuracy regarding dropouts and graduates. Three years ago, all governors in the country agreed to adopt the same formula for calculating and reporting graduation rates through an agreement sponsored by the National Governors Association.
Schools and districts are required to achieve certain targets for each subgroup of students, with the aim of ensuring that all students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Students in grades 3-8 and high school undergo testing. Additionally, high schools must meet graduation-rate goals to satisfy Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria, although they do not have to meet goals for every subgroup of students. Ms. Spellings’ proposal regarding graduation rates is her latest attempt to use executive authority to modify the implementation of the NCLB law, which is regarded as one of the Bush administration’s most significant initiatives on a domestic level. In December, Ms. Spellings announced that she would approve the plans of all qualifying states to determine the accountability status of schools and districts based on student test score growth. Last month, she revealed that she would approve the plans of up to 10 states to vary the consequences faced by schools under the law, depending on their progress towards meeting AYP goals.
To bring about these changes, the secretary is utilizing a provision in the NCLB statute that grants her broad power to waive certain sections of the law for the purpose of improving its implementation, according to Samara Yudof, Ms. Spellings’ press secretary. One congressional leader agreed that the federal government should establish a standardized method for calculating graduation rates. However, he added that the NCLB law requires more substantial revisions than those regulatory actions implemented by the Bush administration can achieve.
Rep. George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, expressed disappointment that the Bush administration declined the opportunity to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner to comprehensively reform the No Child Left Behind law. Instead, they have chosen to make incremental changes to a law that educators and parents recognize as being in need of significant improvement. The law is currently up for reauthorization in Congress, but Rep. Miller has indicated that completing the process before President Bush leaves office in January would be challenging. The administrative changes being made can be considered a sort of shadow reauthorization through consensus-driven fiat, according to Kevin Carey, a senior policy analyst for Education Sector, a think tank based in Washington. Furthermore, he believes that this approach is a strategic decision by the administration to resist major changes to the NCLB law that may be implemented by the Democratic-controlled Congress. Rather than dealing with a complete overhaul, they prefer to stick with the current legislation. Although the Education Department is granting waivers for NCLB mandates that may go beyond what the law allows, Mr. Carey believes that they have chosen to address issues that most policy experts agree need attention.