A Blueprint for Reform
The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
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College- and Career-Ready Students

The goal for America's educational system is clear: Every student should graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Every student should have meaningful opportunities to choose from upon graduation from high school. But while all states have developed and implemented standards as required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), in many cases these standards do not reflect the knowledge and skills needed for success after high school, either in further education or in a job. Four of every 10 new college students, including half of those at 2-year institutions, take remedial courses, and many employers comment on the inadequate preparation of high school graduates. And while states have developed assessments aligned with their standards, in many cases these assessments do not adequately measure student growth or the knowledge and skills that students need, nor do they provide timely, useful information to teachers. We must follow the lead of the nation's governors and challenge students with state-developed, college- and career-ready standards, and more accurately measure what they are learning with better assessments. We must reward the success of schools that are making significant progress, ask for dramatic change in the lowest-performing schools, and address persistent gaps in student academic achievement and graduation rates.

A New Approach

  • Supporting college- and career-ready standards, preparing college- and career-ready students.
  • Rewarding progress and success.
  • Turning around the lowest-performing schools.

College - and Career-Ready Students

Our proposal will maintain formula grants to high-poverty school districts, while making significant changes to better support states, districts, and schools, including middle and high schools, in improving achievement for all groups of students, including low-income and minority students, English Learners, and students with disabilities.

Rigorous College- and Career-Ready Standards. Following the lead of the nation's governors and state education leaders, we're calling on all states to adopt state-developed standards in English language arts and mathematics that build toward college- and career-readiness by the time students graduate from high school, and high-quality statewide assessments aligned with these standards. States may either choose to upgrade their existing standards, working with their 4-year public university system to certify that mastery of the standards ensures that a student will not need to take remedial coursework upon admission to a postsecondary institution in the system; or work with other states to create state-developed common standards that build toward college- and career-readiness. To ensure that all students are learning what they need to succeed, standards must be based on evidence regarding what students must know and be able to do at each grade level to be on track to graduate from high school college- and career-ready. Such standards will also give families and communities the information they need to determine whether their students are on track to college- and career-readiness and to evaluate their schools' effectiveness. States will continue to implement statewide science standards and aligned assessments in specific gradespans, and may include such assessments—as well as statewide assessments in other subjects, such as history—in their accountability system. Finally, states will develop and adopt statewide English language proficiency standards for English Learners, aligned so that they reflect the academic language necessary to master the state's content standards.

Rigorous and Fair Accountability and Support at Every Level. Building on these statewide standards and aligned assessments, every state will ensure that its statewide system of accountability rewards schools and districts for progress and success, requires rigorous interventions in the lowest-performing schools and districts, and allows local flexibility to determine the appropriate improvement and support strategies for most schools.

To foster public accountability for results and help focus improvement and support efforts, states must have data systems in place to gather information that is critical to determining how schools and districts are progressing in preparing students to graduate from high school college- and career-ready. States and districts will collect and make public data relating to student academic achievement and growth in English language arts and mathematics, student academic achievement in science, and if states choose, student academic achievement and growth in other subjects, such as history. At the high school level, this data will also include graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and rates of college enrollment without need for remediation. All of these data must be disaggregated by race, gender, ethnicity, disability status, English Learner status, and family income. States and districts also will collect other key information about teaching and learning conditions, including information on school climate such as student, teacher and school leader attendance; disciplinary incidents; or student, parent, or school staff surveys about their school experience.

Measuring and Supporting Schools, Districts, and States. State accountability systems will be asked to recognize progress and growth and reward success, rather than only identify failure. To ensure that accountability no longer falls solely at the doors of schools, districts and states will be held accountable for providing their schools, principals and teachers with the support they need to succeed. We will ask States to recognize and reward schools and districts making the most progress, provide flexibility for local improvement efforts, and focus the most rigorous support and interventions on the very lowest-performing schools and districts.

We will call on states, districts and schools to aim for the ambitious goal of all students graduating or on track to graduate from high school ready for college and a career by 2020. Performance targets, based on whole-school and subgroup achievement and growth, and graduation rates, will guide improvement toward that ambitious goal, and those that are meeting all of their performance targets will be recognized and rewarded.

States, districts and schools will look not just at absolute performance and proficiency, but at individual student growth and school progress over time, and the additional data described above, to guide local improvement and support strategies for schools.

The schools, districts, and states that are successful in reaching performance targets, significantly increasing student performance for all students, closing achievement gaps, or turning around the lowest-performing schools (at the district and state level) will be recognized as Reward schools, districts and states. States will receive funds to design innovative programs to reward high-poverty Reward schools and Reward districts. Rewards may include financial rewards for the staff and students and development of and participation in "communities of practice" to share best practices and replicate successful strategies to assist lower-performing schools and districts. Rewards may also include flexibility in the use of ESEA funds and, as appropriate, competitive preference for Reward states, high-need Reward districts, and high-need Reward schools in some federal grant competitions. Reward districts will also be given flexibility in implementing interventions in their lowest-performing schools, described further below.

At the other end of the spectrum will be Challenge states, districts, and schools. States will identify Challenge schools that are in need of specific assistance. The first category of Challenge schools will be the lowest-performing five percent of schools in each state, based on student academic achievement, student growth, and graduation rates, that are not making progress to improve. In these schools, states and districts will be required to implement one of four school turnaround models, to support better outcomes for students. Reward districts will receive flexibility to implement a different research-based intervention model, beyond the scope of the four school turnaround models. The next five percent of low-performing schools will be identified in a warning category, and States and districts will implement research-based, locally-determined strategies to help them improve.

Schools that are not closing significant, persistent achievement gaps will constitute another category of Challenge schools. In these schools, districts will be required to implement data-driven interventions to support those students who are farthest behind and close the achievement gap. For all Challenge schools, districts may implement strategies such as expanded learning time, supplemental educational services, public school choice, or other strategies to help students succeed.

Challenge districts whose schools, principals and teachers are not receiving the support they need to succeed may also face significant governance or staffing changes, including replacement of the superintendent. Both Challenge districts and states will face additional restrictions on the use of ESEA funds and may be required to work with an outside organization to improve student academic achievement.

Building Capacity for Support at Every Level. As we ask more of each level of the system, we will also build state and district capacity to support schools, school leaders, teachers, and students. Our proposal will allow states and districts to reserve funds to carry out such activities as (i) supporting and complementing the adoption of rigorous standards and high-quality assessments, and supporting teachers in teaching to those standards; (ii) supporting the more effective use of data to identify local needs and improve student outcomes; (iii) improving capacity at the state and district levels to support the effective use of technology to improve instruction; (iv) coordinating with early learning programs to improve school readiness; or (v) carrying out effective family engagement strategies.

Districts will be required to set aside a portion of funds under this program to improve student performance in high-need schools, by implementing effective school improvement strategies and carrying out strategies to ensure the equitable distribution of effective teachers and school leaders. Reward districts will be allowed flexibility around this reservation.

Fostering Comparability and Equity. To give every student a fair chance to succeed and give principals and teachers the resources to support student success, we will encourage increased resource equity at every level of the system. Over time, districts will be required to ensure that their high-poverty schools receive state and local funding levels (for personnel and relevant nonpersonnel expenditures) comparable to those received by their low-poverty schools. In addition, districts that use their resources to provide strong support to disadvantaged students will be given additional flexibility to provide such support. States will be asked to measure and report on resource disparities and develop a plan to tackle them.

Assessing Achievement

Our proposal will maintain support for state efforts to improve the quality of their assessment systems, and to develop and implement the upgraded standards and assessments required by the College- and Career-Ready Students program. Improved assessments can be used to accurately measure student growth; to better measure how states, districts, schools, principals, and teachers are educating students; to help teachers adjust and focus their teaching; and to provide better information to students and their families.

States will receive formula grants to develop and implement high-quality assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards in English language arts and mathematics that accurately measure student academic achievement and growth, provide feedback to support and improve teaching, and measure school success and progress. States may also use funds to develop or implement high-quality, rigorous statewide assessments in other academic or career and technical subjects, high school course assessments, English language proficiency assessments, and interim or formative assessments. Beginning in 2015, formula funds will be available only to states that are implementing assessments based on college- and career-ready standards that are common to a significant number of states. The program also will support competitive grants to consortia of states, and to other entities working in partnership with states, for research on, or development and improvement of, additional high-quality assessments to be used by multiple states in such areas as science, history, or foreign languages; high school course assessments in academic and career and technical subjects; universally designed assessments; and assessments for English Learners and students with disabilities.

School Turnaround Grants

Our proposal will make available significant grants to help states, districts, and schools implement the rigorous interventions required in each state's lowest-performing Challenge schools under the College- and Career-Ready Students program.

States will receive funds by formula and may reserve funds to build their capacity to improve low-performing schools, including developing and implementing effective school quality review teams to assist schools in identifying school needs and supporting school improvement. States will award the remainder of funds competitively to districts or partnerships of districts and nonprofit organizations to implement one of the following intervention models, to be selected locally, to ensure significant changes in the operation, governance, staffing, or instructional program of a school:

  • Transformation model: Replace the principal, strengthen staffing, implement a research-based instructional program, provide extended learning time, and implement new governance and flexibility.

  • Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the school staff, implement a research-based instructional program, provide extended learning time, and implement new governance structure.

  • Restart model: Convert or close and reopen the school under the management of an effective charter operator, charter management organization, or education management organization.

  • School closure model: Close the school and enroll students who attended it in other, higher-performing schools in the district.

Districts and their partners will receive 3-year awards to fully and effectively implement one of these intervention models, and will be eligible for two additional years of funding to support a school's ongoing improvement if the school is showing progress.

In addition, the Secretary will reserve a portion of School Turnaround Grants for additional activities designed to enhance state, district, and nonprofit capacity to improve schools, such as investing in model school quality review teams to identify school needs and support school improvement.

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Last Modified: 05/27/2011