As the country’s schools begin working to meet the requirements of the new federal education law, 6 million middle and high school students are not being supported by the legislation, argues a report unveiled last week, along with four initiatives designed to address the situation.
“We are promised that no child will be left behind,” the report says. “But these promises do not include adolescents who continue to struggle to meet high standards or, worse, simply give up and leave school without a diploma.”
The “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, championed by President Bush, puts a great deal of emphasis on early education, but not enough on students in middle and high school, asserts the report by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Former Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley sits on the advisory board of the Washington-based research and advocacy group.
Department of Education officials counter that the law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, emphasizes the acquisition of basic skills to foster success throughout students’ academic careers.
“It’s important to note that most scientifically based research on reading has focused on the early stages,” said Daniel Langan, a spokesman for the department. “If they don’t grasp solid reading skills by 3rd grade, they will have a tough time for the rest of their lives.”
The department’s office of educational research and improvement is studying reading comprehension. In addition, the Education Department plans to launch a research program next year on adolescent literacy.
“We are already ahead of the game in terms of what this report has uncovered,” Mr. Langan said.
Based on scores from the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the report speculates that about 25 percent of all secondary school students read at the “below basic” level, which slows their learning in other academic areas. Those students are far more likely to drop out of school, according to the alliance report.
In urban areas, the report says, more than 50 percent of 8th graders fail to graduate from high school in five years.
“No Child Left Behind is promising, but incomplete,” said Mr. Riley, who headed the Education Department during the Clinton administration. Most districts are opting to put federal dollars into educating young children, while secondary school students are struggling to meet new, high demands, he said at a press conference held here to release the study.
The report, titled “Every Child a Graduate,” calls on the president and Congress to enact four measures to address what the alliance sees as the legislation’s failures.
The first, an adolescent- literacy initiative, would expand the existing federal Reading First program to include a literacy specialist in each high-needs middle and high school who would train secondary school teachers.
Another measure calls for more federal money to put toward incentives for exceptional teachers and principals to work in high-need schools, mentoring programs for new teachers, and professional development that would help teachers strengthen the skills of low- performing students.
To help students prepare for college, the alliance recommends that every 9th grader be provided with a six-year, individualized plan that a school counselor would monitor to make sure it was being met. The report also advocates carving out small learning communities within schools.
Carrying out the initiatives is projected to cost about $2,400 per student, or $14.4 billion.