WASHINGTON – At a news briefing on Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, a group of representatives from the Campaign for High School Equity coalition unveiled the campaign’s new “Plan For Success” while urging lawmakers to take more decisive steps toward addressing the nation’s high school dropout rate.
While the CHSE coalition consists of a handful of civil rights organizations—including the National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, and the NAACP—panelists agreed that implementing core standards would be key to addressing the inequities that minority students face in secondary education.
CHSE’s updated “Plan for Success” includes a number of policy prescriptions, such as making sure that high schools and districts calculate graduation rates based on a common method, implementing new graduation benchmarks, and emphasizing high-quality teaching.
The panelists called the reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act a central pillar of the push for high school equity. They also expressed strong opposition to the so-called “flexibility bill,” a Senate proposal, which would give local governments more freedom to reapportion funds or consolidate programs.
Dianne Piche, senior counsel and education program director at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that such measures are troublesome because it would mean that school districts could move funds out of high-poverty schools.
“This was not a flexibility bill. This was an elimination bill,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president for federal advocacy at the Alliance for Education. The bill, he said, virtually “abdicates the federal responsibility in education.”
Michael Wotorson, director of the Campaign for High School Equity, said that the central purpose of the updated plan is to address the nation’s persistently high dropout rate, which remained at what he calls “crisis levels” for years.On average, about 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year, according to the CHSE. Only 55 percent of Black and Latino students graduate, Wotorson said.
The reasons why many students drop out are complex, he says, and often stem from financial reasons. But many students simply feel discouraged.
“More and more of our kids are educated in schools where the resources are horrible,” Wotorson said. “They have teachers that are not the best, and not the best assessments are used. So a lot of kids go on and make the decision to leave, to drop out, because school offers no hope, no promise. Frankly, it offers them nothing. And so they leave.”
It is a vicious cycle that has played out for years, says Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Poor students are yoked to what he calls “perpetually failing” schools, giving them little incentives to continue their educations.
“Today’s schools are, in some respects, as segregated as they were in 1969,” he says.
Veronica Rivera of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund praised the effectiveness of “expanded learning opportunities,” which include internships, independent study, and family support services.
Rivera said that these programs—which extend into weekends and summers—could address reasons why students drop out by giving them structured learning environments outside the classroom.
“Research suggests that participation in expanded learning programs may reduce problems students face that are linked to academic achievement, low teacher expectations, students’ alienation from school, lack of enrichment activities, quality education, and lack of structured and supervised environments during or after school,” she said.
Rivera said that, to give minority students equal access to these programs, federal and local governments should form partnerships with expanded learning programs.
Doua Thor, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, said that prioritizing higher standards for students could have a ripple effect, forcing schools to invest in better teachers, technology and classrooms.
“The investments we make for our children are really the investments we make for everyone,” Thor said. “When you have common high standards for all students, then we believe a lot of things fall in place behind that.”