Murray Introduces PASS Act to Boost High School Graduation and College Success for Students

Aug 01 2003

Murray's Pathways for All Students to Succeed (PASS) Act

Summary of PASS Act

Mr. President, today I’m pleased to introduce a bill that will help America’s teenagers graduate from high school, go on to college, and enter the working world with the skills they need to succeed.

I’m proud to introduce the PASS Act – which stands for the Pathways for All Students to Succeed Act.

Today, far too many students drop-out of school and never have a chance for college and a better life.

My bill will reach out to vulnerable students during high school by providing the training, guidance and resources they need to stay in school and go on to college.

Specifically, the PASS Act will help schools hire literacy coaches to strengthen essential reading and writing skills. It will provide grants for high-quality Academic Counselors to ensure each student has an individualized plan and access to services to prepare for college and a good job. And finally, the PASS Act targets resources to those high schools that need the most help, so they can implement research-based strategies for success.

Mr. President, many of America’s high schools and high school students are in serious trouble, and it’s only getting worse.

With each new school day, 3,000 secondary students drop out of school. This year alone, nearly 540,000 young people will leave school without attaining a high school diploma.

Our nation’s high school graduation rate is 69 percent. And in urban areas, that figure is even worse. Many urban school districts graduate fewer than half of their students.

Dropping out has an enormous cost to these students, their families and our communities.

Sadly, even those students who do receive a high school diploma are not guaranteed success in college or in life.

Many graduate from high school unprepared for the academic rigor of post-secondary study.

About 40 percent of four-year college students and 63 percent of community college students are enrolling in remedial courses in reading, writing, or math when they enter college.

And although approximately 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in college, only 7 percent from low-income families will have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 24 -- in part because they have not been properly prepared for college academics. I hope these statistics will call us to action.

That’s why today I’m introducing a bill to improve our nation’s secondary schools, especially those serving high-need students.

First, the PASS Act would ensure that middle or high school students who are still struggling to master literacy will get additional help.

About 60 percent of students in the poorest communities fail to graduate from secondary school on time, in large part because they don’t have the reading or writing skills they need.

We took a good step in creating the Reading First program to strengthen students’ reading skills in the elementary grades. These skills are the foundation of their success throughout their academic careers.

However, many middle and high school students struggle with serious reading deficits and substandard literacy skills that have gone unattended for years.

The 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that the reading achievement of 12th grade students has declined at all performance levels since 1998.

Thirty-three percent of 12th grade boys, and 20 percent of 12th grade girls read below the “basic level.”

While the percentage of 4th and 8th graders writing at or above a basic level has increased between 1998 and 2002, the percentage of 12th graders writing at or above basic has gone down.

These numbers show that our concentrated efforts for elementary and middle school students have improved their writing skills, but by neglecting the needs of secondary school students, we are squandering these gains.

Title I: Literary Coaches

In response, Title I of my bill creates a $1 billion “Reading to Succeed” grant program.

Building on the strong foundation of the Reading First program, this grant program will establish effective, research-based reading and writing programs for students in our middle and high schools, including 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 one for every 20 teachers.

The coaches will help teachers incorporate research-based literary instruction into their core subject teaching.

This will strengthen the reading and writing skills of all students, while identifying and helping those students whose skills are especially poor.

These coaches will assess students and coordinate services to address significant reading and writing deficits.

In addition to hiring literacy coaches, funds can be used to provide relevant professional development, strengthen curricula in secondary schools, and implement diagnostic assessments, research-based curricula, instructional materials, and interventions in middle and high schools.

These literacy coaches can help us make sure that no more students slip through the cracks because they never learned to read.

Title II: Academic & Career Counselors

In addition to strong literacy skills, careful planning, sound advice and strong academic support are critical to guiding students to success.

Too many high school students make it to graduation, only to find that they cannot attend the school of their choice or enter a chosen career because they are not prepared.

Many high school students are floundering – unable to find out what courses they need to take or how they can get past academic or other barriers.

Unfortunately, most of our schools counselors serve too many students with too few resources.

High school counselors work with an average of 450 students each, making it impossible to guide each individual student along the pathway to high school graduation and work or college.

Title II of my bill seeks to address this problem by creating grants for thorough, high-quality academic and career counseling for our high school students.

These grants will cultivate and promote parent involvement in their child’s education, and will coordinate support services for at-risk high school students across the country.

This “Creating Pathways to Success Program” would complement other existing successful high school programs by providing $2 billion to support systemic change in the way we guide our high school students to success.

The funds could be used to hire and train Academic Counselors to work with no more than 150 students each, and to equip these counselors with the time, skills, and resources to work directly with students, parents, and teachers to give each student the individualized attention and service they need.

Academic Counselors will work with students and parents to develop 6-year plans outlining the path each student will take to reach his or her goals.

They will coordinate new resources with existing ones such as GEAR UP, TRIO, Title I, IDEA and Perkins Vocational and Technical Education programs to ensure students receive the services identified in their plans and to facilitate a smooth transition to postsecondary education or a career.

Schools that get these new funds must offer a rigorous college preparatory curriculum to all students, including access to Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.

Working together we can make sure that our adolescents graduate prepared for any dream they may choose to pursue.

Title III: Supporting Low-Performing Schools

Finally, my bill includes a third title called “Supporting Successful High Schools” to ensure that we take action to help turn around our low-performing high schools.

Approximately 10 percent of the schools which have been identified so far as “in need of improvement” according to the requirements of No Child Left Behind are high schools.

In about 1100 high schools, 75% or more of the students enrolled are living in poverty.

Despite these numbers, most reform efforts are focused on elementary schools. We’ve overlooked struggling middle and high schools.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, Title I funding should be used to help all schools that need improvement, but high schools receive only 15% of Title I funds, even though they enroll 33% of low-income students.

Until Title I is fully-funded, it is unlikely that high schools will receive a significant amount of these funds to address the problems they have identified.

Meanwhile, high schools are being held to the requirements of No Child Left Behind without a targeted source of funding to turn around schools in need of improvement.

Our states and districts have worked hard to figure out which high schools need improvement the most, and now it’s time we improve them.

That’s why my bill would create a $500 million grant program that allows districts to identify, develop, and implement reforms that will turn around these low-performing schools.

School districts can use funds for research-based strategies and best practices that will improve student achievement and bring success.

Districts would work with parents, teachers, students and communities to choose any effective reform such as small schools, block scheduling, whole school reforms or individualized learning plans.

For example, since research shows that smaller schools enhance student outcomes by allowing teachers to offer personalized assistance and connect with students, some districts may reduce the size of low-performing high schools by creating smaller schools or academies within larger schools.

Working together, we can do more than identify our schools in need of improvement – we can improve them.

In conclusion, the Pathways for All Students to Succeed Act provides the grants America’s students need to promote adolescent literacy, support college and career pathways for all our students, and to improve struggling high schools nationwide.

I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this bill and addressing the needs of our high school students.