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Today Senator Murray hosted an education roundtable to get comments and feedback on her initiative, Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS Act). The attendees included leaders from K-12, higher education and the workforce development communities in Washington State.

Senator Murray's opening remarks follow:

Welcome and thank you for coming to be part of this discussion on improving our high schools.

I asked all of you to come today because you are education and community leaders – from schools, the workforce, and business.

I appreciate you taking the time today to discuss how we can work together to help high school students graduate from school and succeed in post-secondary education and beyond.

I know how strapped our schools are. They’re being asked to do more with less, and they need our help.

And each of us in this room has a stake in what happens to today’s high school students.

I want to hear from each of you about
  • how your sector is affected by the crisis in our high schools,
  • what problems you face,
  • and what solutions you see.


I also want to discuss a bill I’ve written that will target some challenges in our high schools. My bill is called the PASS Act, which stands for Pathways for All Students to Succeed.

Now I’d like to start by talking about some of the challenges our high school students are facing.

  • One challenge is the high drop out rate.
  • Another is that many students are not prepared for college, training or careers.
  • And finally, many schools are struggling to pay for unfunded mandates.


High Drop-Out Rate

Let’s look at that first challenge – the high drop out rate.

  • Each school day, about 3,000 secondary students drop out of school.
  • And nationally, the graduation rate is just 69 percent.


The graduation rate is even lower for minorities and students at inner-city schools.

For the class of 2001 only 51 percent of the African-American students and 52 percent of the Latino students received high school diplomas.

This year alone, nearly 540,000 young people will leave school without a high school diploma.

There are many reasons why students drop out. One factor is a student’s ability to read and write which brings me to a second challenge - many students are not prepared for college, training or careers.

Students Not Prepared - Literacy

Six million of the nation’s 20 million adolescents ages 15 – 19 have difficulty reading.

On NAEP, the average performance of our 8th graders since 1998 has remained flat. 29 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls in 8th grade are reading at “below basic” levels. Worse, the reading achievement of 12th graders has declined at all performance levels since 1998. 33 percent of 12th grade boys and 20 percent of 12th grade girls read below the “basic” level.

Achievement Gap

And there are still significant achievement gaps in reading between white students and minority students.

For example, in high-poverty, urban schools, more than half of incoming 9th grade students read 2 to 3 grade levels behind.

On average, African-American and Hispanic 12th grade students read at the same level as white 8th grade students.

Out of Reach

For too many students, graduation and college seem out of reach. They don’t see themselves as college material. Too often, they don’t plan for graduation or college or a career until it’s too late. We need to reach these students earlier and put them on a track to graduate.

One problem is that high school counselors are overwhelmed. Many have to serve 450 students each. It’s hard to help each student develop an academic plan with such a large caseload.

Unfunded Mandates

Clearly funding remains a huge obstacle to high school success. 10 percent, or 800 of the schools which have been identified so far as “in need of improvement”, are high schools. In approximately 1100 high schools, 75% or more of the students enrolled are living in poverty.

Despite this, most reform efforts have been focused on elementary schools, with little attention paid to middle and high school needs. For example, only about 15 percent of Title I funding goes to high schools. In the No Child Left Behind Act, Title I funding should be used to help schools in need of improvement, but until Title I is fully funded, it is unlikely that high schools will receive a significant amount of these funds.

The problems related to literacy, dropouts, and low graduation rates are felt beyond high school.

College Preparation is Inadequate

Nationally, only 32 percent of students left high school prepared to enter a four–year college.

For Hispanic and African American students, the college preparation rate was even lower – only 16 percent of Hispanic students and 20 percent of African American students leave high school prepared for college.

Even when students make it to college, 40 percent still need remedial courses once they are enrolled.

Although about 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in college, only 7 percent from low-income families will have earned a baccalaureate degree by the age of 24, in great part because they have not been prepared in high school for the academic rigor of college.

Impact the Workplace & Economy

This crisis extends into the workplace and our broader economy.

In 2001, the National Association of Manufacturers reported that 80 percent of manufacturers continue to experience a moderate-to-serious shortage in qualified job candidates. 78 percent believed that the public schools were failing to prepare students for the workplace.

According to the Utility Business Education Coalition, American business spends $60 billion annually on training, much of it for remedial reading, writing, and math.

Need to Focus on High Schools

In Washington, D.C., we have focused a lot on elementary education without looking at what our students in high schools are facing. We will all suffer if our students do not succeed in high school and are not given the tools to succeed in post-secondary education and beyond.

That’s why I’ve written the PASS Act. It puts a focus on high schools. And its impact will go far beyond high schools. It will have a positive impact on post-secondary education – vocational education, community colleges, and 4-year institutions, and the work force.

I know that if we focus on improving our high schools:

  • our graduation rates will improve,
  • more students will start and complete post-secondary education will improve,
  • our workforce will meet the needs that employers have,
  • and our economy will improve.


So I knew we needed to focus on high schools. And I also knew we didn’t need a top-down bill – another list of demands from Washington, D.C.

I reached out to education leaders here in Washington and across the country and asked them – what would investments would make the biggest difference in our high schools.

Time and again, I heard that literacy was a major hurdle to high school success and that there wasn’t enough of a focus on continuing literacy skills past elementary schools – whether that be in curriculum, classes, or professional development.

We know students cannot succeed in any classes --English, math, science, or otherwise -- if they do not have strong literacy skills.

I also heard about the current struggle schools are facing with counseling and academic preparation for students to graduate and continue into post-secondary education. And, of course, I heard about the lack of funding. That lack of funding though is particularly pronounced in high schools, considering the focus of Title I funding to elementary education.

Until we adequately fund Title I and other education programs, funding for all aspects of education will be at issue.

About My Bill

So let me turn to the details of my bill.

It has 3 main parts:
  • It will improve reading skills,
  • Help students and parents plan for graduation, careers, and college,
  • And will provide funding for struggling schools.


Title I

Let’s start with reading skills.

Title I of my bill creates a $1 billion “Reading to Succeed” grant program. Building on the Reading First program, this grant program will establish effective, research-based reading and writing programs for students in our middle and high schools. It includes children with limited English proficiency and children with disabilities.

These grants will provide resources for schools to hire literary coaches at a ratio of at least 1 for every 20 teachers.

These literary coaches will help teachers:
  • incorporate research-based literary instruction into their core subject teaching;
  • strengthen the reading and writing skills of all students;
  • and identify and help those students whose skills need help.


Title II

Title II of my bill focuses on planning and preparation.It creates grants to provide academic and career counseling.

It will help increase parental involvement and will coordinate support services for at-risk high school students.

It will complement other successful high school programs by providing $2 billion to support the hiring and placement of Academic Counselors.

Each counselor will handle no more than 150 students – compared with the current national average of 1 counselor for every 450 students.

These counselors will work directly with students, parents and teachers to develop six-year graduation plans outlining the path each student in a high-need school will take to reach his or her goals.

The counselors would also help coordinate other critical federal programs such as GEAR UP and TRIO.

Title III

Title III provides a $500 million grant program that will allow districts to develop -- or identify and implement -- reforms that turn around low-performing schools and improve student achievement. For example, districts can use funds to reduce the size of the high school learning environment by creating smaller schools or academies within larger schools.

One of the problems today is that schools may be labeled “in need of improvement” but they don’t get any additional funding to actually take steps to improve. My bill fixes that.

I know that many of you have other issues that you’d like to discuss, but I’d like to keep the focus on what our high schools, workforce and businesses need. I’d like to hear about the challenges that you see, any stories you can share, and what your reactions are to the PASS Act.

I want to thank all of you for coming today and sharing your ideas. I’m committed to working with you to help address the challenges our students are facing. I hope today is the start of partnership, and I want to leave you with some ways that you can help.

First, keep talking and collaborating to help our students succeed in all aspects of education and the workforce.

Second, help spread the word about my bill. Tell the people that you work with about it. Mention it in your organization’s newsletter. Have your organization send me a letter endorsing the bill and giving examples of how it will help. You can reach out to your colleagues in other states and ask them to urge their Senators to support the bill. If you’re part of a national organization, ask your organization to endorse the bill.

I know that we’ve covered a lot of details today and you won’t be able to remember everything when you tell your friends about the bill.That’s why I’ve set up a special section of my website that deals with the PASS Act.

And before long we’ll have pictures of this roundtable up there.

The address is murray.senate.gov/pass.

You can also sign up for my newsletter at murray.senate.gov/updates.

Thank you for coming, and I look forward to working with you on this and other important issues affecting our students.