Federal

Kerry Unveils Plans on Graduation Rates, Teachers

May 12, 2004 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Election 2004

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts turned his attention last week back to K-12 education, unfurling two campaign proposals that seek to blend extra federal support for schools and higher accountability demands.

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president said that he would take steps to substantially increase graduation rates over five years. In addition, he would provide better pay and preparation for teachers, while requiring high standards and seeking to ensure that schools replaced poorly performing teachers.

“It’s time for a new bargain with America’s teachers and children,” he said May 6 at Colton High School in Colton, Calif. “I will offer teachers more, and I will ask for more in return.”

Sen. Kerry also had some barbed words for President Bush on education. He reiterated his complaint that the White House hasn’t supported adequate spending for education. And he criticized the Republican administration for what he deems a failure to enforce key provisions on graduation rates in the No Child Left Behind Act.

“This administration is not paying attention to graduation rates and is hiding the fact that more than one million kids drop out every year,” he said two days earlier at Longfellow Elementary School in Albuquerque, N.M. “We cannot let empty rhetoric and misleading test scores count as real results.”

Mr. Kerry, who joined a bipartisan Senate majority that approved the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, wants to impose an extra level of accountability that would require schools and districts to show annual progress in boosting graduation rates for disadvantaged and minority students.

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, expressed some surprise last week at Sen. Kerry’s rhetoric on tough accountability.

“Senator Kerry and his lobbyist allies have spent the last six months trying to water down accountability requirements in the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act,” he said in a statement last week.

Sandy Kress, the president’s former education adviser, said Mr. Bush is committed to reducing dropout rates.

He argued that, beyond the graduation-rate measures in the law, the No Child Left Behind Act contains an array of provisions that will help tackle the problem.

“Reading First is all about preventing a future generation of dropouts,” he said. “And then, checking year to year to see if children are up to grade level, ... having interventions in the schools, corrective action, giving teachers training.” He also noted that Mr. Bush this year has proposed a $100 million “Striving Readers” initiative to help older students read.

Graduate-Rate Demands

Sen. Kerry spent much of last week focused on K-12 education, with a three-day swing through New Mexico and California that concluded on May 6. While the senator recently made some announcements on higher education and national service, last week’s proposals were his first fresh round of precollegiate policy ideas since December, when the Democratic nomination was still up for grabs.

During his visit to Longfellow Elementary in Albuquerque on May 4, he lamented the nation’s high dropout rates, saying that almost one- third of students do not graduate from high school, and that the figures are even worse for some minority groups.

He outlined several proposals to help states and districts, such as expanding federal support for breaking up large high schools into smaller schools-within-schools, financing a national initiative to better align academic standards in high school with the knowledge and skills students need to succeed, and supporting state programs that withhold driver’s licenses from young dropouts.

In making his case that President Bush hasn’t been firm on the issue of dropouts, the Kerry campaign cited some recent reports.

A December study by the Washington-based Education Trust found that, contrary to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, some states didn’t report any data on dropouts in 2003 and that many didn’t break the data down by student subgroups. The study also concluded that some states reported graduation rates that were far different from—and more optimistic than—those in an external analysis using what some experts deem a more reliable method.

A February report by groups including Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute argued that most states have set “soft” goals for improving their graduation rates that don’t provide meaningful accountability. The report also criticized the Education Department for not requiring in Title I regulations that schools and districts show progress for graduation rates not only overall, but by various subgroups of students, when gauging “adequate yearly progress” under the federal law.

“To apply [subgroup] accountability to testing and not to apply that to graduation is really misguided,” Gary Orfield, a Harvard professor who co-wrote the report, said last week.

Mr. Kerry would demand “uniform and accurate” graduation data from states and districts, a campaign document states, and would require subgroup improvement on graduation rates.

A Kerry aide argued that the law was ambiguous on the matter of subgroup graduation rates, but that the Bush administration should have made it a clear requirement through regulations.

“Consistent with the intent of the law, the department should have done that,” said the aide, who asked not to be named. “It’s a question of whether the department is going to show leadership or not, and it hasn’t.”

Asked to comment on the senator’s criticisms, Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said, “The regulations strengthen the graduation requirements set in the statute, while providing flexibility to the states to set target graduation rates.”

Undermining His Goal?

Several experts on graduation rates praised Sen. Kerry for homing in on the issue last week.

“I think it’s great that he sees this as an important issue,” said Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute in New York City.

But Mr. Greene suggested that the senator could undermine his goal of reducing dropouts, depending on what his intent was with an earlier campaign proposal to move away from a heavy reliance on standardized tests to measure student improvement under the law. Mr. Kerry has argued that the current testing demands in the law for showing adequate progress are unrealistic.

“I’m worried that he may be trying to soften the testing requirements while toughening the graduation requirements,” Mr. Greene said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry also announced new teacher proposals last week with a price tag of $30 billion over 10 years.

Sen. Kerry said he would offer increased pay of up to $5,000 to teachers in high-need schools and in subjects experiencing shortfalls, such as mathematics and science. He also would support mentoring programs that link new teachers with veterans.

At the same time, he would require rigorous testing of all new teachers and call on all states to have or develop fast, fair procedures for improving or replacing teachers who did not perform adequately in their jobs.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2004 edition of Education Week as Kerry Unveils Plans on Graduation Rates, Teachers

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Schools Could Count Nonbinary Students Under Biden Proposal
The Civil Rights Data Collection for this school year could also revive questions about inexperienced teachers and preschool discipline.
6 min read
Image of a form with male and female checkboxes.
iStock/Getty
Federal 'Parents' Bill of Rights' Underscores Furor Over Curriculum and Transparency in Schools
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley's bill highlights how education issues like critical race theory will likely stay in the national political spotlight.
7 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., says "it's time to give control back to parents, not woke bureaucrats."
Patrick Semansky/AP
Federal Opinion It’s Not Just the NSBA That’s Out of Touch. There’s a Bigger Problem
Those who influence educational policy or practice would do well to care about what parents and the public actually want.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Dept. of Ed., Florida Continue to Battle Over Ban on School Mask Mandates
Federal officials say they’ll intervene if the Florida Dept. of Ed. goes ahead with sanctions on districts with mask mandates.
Ana Ceballos, Miami Herald
2 min read
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran speaks alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, rear right, Fla. Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., left, state legislators, parents and educators, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran speaks alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, rear right, Fla. Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., left, state legislators, parents and educators, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP