October 21, 2011

Senate Committee Approves Key Education Bill

Legislation Contains Whitehouse Provision to Improve Middle Schools

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) has approved bipartisan legislation to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – a law which was last updated under President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001. The legislation approved by the Committee will eliminate some of the more burdensome requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” law, and also contains a key provision to improve our nation’s middle schools which is based on U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) Success in the Middle Act.

“Middle school is a pivotal time for children in Rhode Island and throughout the country,” said Whitehouse. “This legislation will provide competitive grants to struggling school systems, giving our kids a better chance to succeed in school and go on to graduate.”

As a member of the HELP Committee, Whitehouse worked to include a new “Improving Secondary Schools” competitive grant – which incorporated key provisions from the Success in the Middle Act – in the education bill. With this grant, districts with struggling middle schools and high schools can receive funding for comprehensive reform, including: the creation of an early warning indicator and intervention system to catch students in danger of falling behind grade level, programs to ease the transition between elementary, middle, and high school, and personalized education plans for students.

The inclusion of these reforms marks the first time ESEA has directly addressed the importance of this critical stage in our students’ educational development.

In 2009, less than 1/3 of 8th grade students scored proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP), and nearly 30 percent scored below the basic level in math. The effects of underperforming can be serious: Sixth grade students who do not attend school regularly, who frequently receive disciplinary actions, or who fail math or English have less than a 15 percent chance of graduating high school on time, and a 20 percent chance of graduating one year late.

The Success in the Middle Act was originally introduced by then-Senator Barack Obama in 2007, and by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in 2009.

During the HELP Committee’s process of considering the ESEA legislation, Whitehouse was also a leading Democrat working with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on a bipartisan amendment to allow states greater freedom to develop programs to turn around struggling schools. He also helped secure language in the bill to protect funding for community-based after school programs, such as the one currently run by the Providence Afterschool Alliance (PASA).


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