Plan Offered on U.S. Aid for High Schools
Principals’ Group Has Pricey Agenda, But More Tests Not on It
The National Association of Secondary School Principals has outlined a detailed, and expensive, agenda for ways the federal government can help improve high schools—from dramatically boosting federal aid for adolescent literacy to establishing a big, flexible spending pot to help low-performing high school students.
While some of the agenda has echoes, if much costlier ones, of President Bush’s plans for high schools, notably absent is any support for his call to mandate more testing in the high school grades.
In all, the plan issued by the Reston, Va.-based NASSP would involve about $5 billion annually in new federal spending for high schools. The group notes that high schools currently receive less federal aid than middle schools and far less than elementary ones.
But the hefty price tag on the organization’s proposal is likely to be a tough sell in Washington’s current fiscal climate, with high budget deficits and added demands for military and homeland-security spending putting the squeeze on domestic programs. The entire Department of Education discretionary budget increased by less than $1 billion for fiscal 2005, and President Bush, while calling for new spending for high schools, has requested a slight dip in the department’s overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the NASSP, said in an interview last week that the impetus for his group’s legislative plan was to respond to the president’s high school agenda, especially its emphasis on expanding federal testing requirements at the secondary level.
“It starts really with a significant concern we have that the administration … is making some very strong statements to push forward with No Child Left Behind into the high schools,” said Mr. Tirozzi, who was an assistant secretary of education under President Clinton.
“I personally think that defies logic,” he said of the president’s testing proposal. “We have to stop this business of taking [students’] temperature over and over again to find that they’re ill. … We never provide the intervention strategy.”
The NASSP proposal, which the group discussed in special briefings for Congress on Feb. 15, seeks to channel far more federal aid into high schools than is currently provided. “To date, federal resources in support of school improvement have mainly been targeted at the elementary level and to some extent the middle level,” says the NASSP plan. “The next and long-overdue stage in the evolution of school reform must be the improvement of the nation’s high schools.”
The National Association of Secondary School Principals has proposed ways the federal government could help improve American high schools. Among the highlights:
• Provide a new and separate funding stream of $3.6 billion annually to address the academic needs of low-performing high school students.
• Dramatically scale up the Striving Readers program, which supports interventions for struggling middle and high schoolers, to $1 billion a year. It now receives $25 million.
• Restructure the Smaller Learning Communities program into a “high school per-sonalization” program and increase funding to $174 million annually.
• More than double funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program from the current $35 million a year to $85 million.
• Provide a dedicated funding of $100 million a year to help improve the quality of principals and other leaders within schools.
• Encourage all high schools to increase their academic rigor by expanding the State Scholars program to $12 million, raising federal aid for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, and other measures.
The group notes that high schools receive only about 5 percent of federal aid under the Title I program for disadvantaged students, the centerpiece of the No Child Left Behind Act, even though they enroll about 28 percent of K-12 students nationwide.
President Bush in his budget request for fiscal 2006 outlined a series of high school plans. He wants to spend $250 million to help states meet his proposal to mandate two more years of high school testing. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states currently must test students each year in grades 3-8 in mathematics and reading, and once in high school in both those subjects. ("Bush’s High School Agenda Faces Obstacles," Feb. 9, 2005.)
Mr. Bush also wants to set up a $1.2 billion High School Intervention program that would offer states and districts considerable flexibility in devising means to help low-performing students. And he has called for more spending on other items, such as providing $52 million for making Advanced Placement courses more available to disadvantaged high schoolers, and dramatically increasing the Striving Readers program—an intervention for struggling middle and high school students—to $200 million.
Not to be outdone, the NASSP would give the Striving Readers program a much more robust boost, bringing its funding to $1 billion, an amount more on par with federal aid for elementary school reading. Congress provided $25 million for Striving Readers this year.
“Striving Readers comes out to like $4.50 per kid,” Mr. Tirozzi said. “It’s disgraceful.”
The costliest recommendation in the NASSP proposal is the creation of a separate funding stream of $3.6 billion to address the academic needs of low-performing high school students.
That money would help states, districts, and high schools meet the accountability and teacher-quality demands of the No Child Left Behind law, the group says. It arrived at the $3.6 billion figure by calculating how much high schoolers would currently receive if Title I aid were “accurately distributed on the basis of student populations and student need.”
Mr. Tirozzi argues that a big problem with President Bush’s High School Intervention fund is that the money would come from abolishing the $1.3 billion now spent for federal vocational education programs.
“The answer is not to borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” he said.
Krista Kafer, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, said the NASSP package contains some sound ideas. But she argued that Capitol Hill was the wrong place to pursue them.
“There’s no reason why these should be necessarily federally funded,” Ms. Kafer said. “Every single one of these recommendations could be achieved at the local, state, or private level.”
She also doubted, given the current fiscal realities in Washington, that lawmakers are likely to heed the pricey suggestions.
“Are we ever surprised when special interest groups call for more money?” she said. “It’s kind of what they do. … The money is just not there.”
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