Dear Chairman Kline:
Jobs for the Future commends you and the members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for your commitment to moving the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) forward. As a national education and workforce intermediary organization, JFF identifies, develops, and helps scale up strategies that provide pathways from high school to college to family-sustaining careers for youth and adults struggling to advance in America. As such, we believe that ESEA reauthorization is a crucial component to advancing effective and efficient education reforms in states and local communities across our nation.
The Committee’s markup of the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act reaffirmed that while current law has been a transformative driver of education reform across the country, the law has fallen short of dramatically increasing the number of students who graduate ready to succeed in college and careers. Jobs for the Future believes that at a time when a postsecondary credential is essential for success in today’s economy, our nation’s primary elementary and secondary education law must be updated to reflect what we have learned from past reform efforts and what works for students, families, and communities today.
The framework set forth in the Student Success Act provides states and school districts with significant flexibility to pursue innovation and invention in education reform. We appreciate the Committee’s intent to allow for growth and multiple measures of student success. We applaud the fact that you continue to require reporting of disaggregated data, including cohort graduation rates, as this information is key to knowing which reforms are working for students. Invention and innovation are essential to helping target funding to the most effective practices that lead to student success. In this regard, we have seen the promise of growth models and multiple measures, such as dual credit and college-level coursework success, that can provide a more accurate picture of student college and career readiness, if implemented well.
However, JFF has learned from our work with states and local school systems that while flexibility is very important, rigorous end goals and accountability are critical to ensure that all students reach intended outcomes. We know from our direct work with states and school districts who are implementing and scaling up innovative education reforms that they most often arrive at these strategies and systemic innovations as the result of elevated expectations established through accountability systems. We feel strongly that a coherent system of accountability should come from the federal government as well as from states to ensure high expectations for all students across the country, regardless of where they live.
Over the last half-century we have seen low-income and underrepresented students across the country fall behind, despite efforts at reform. This is a national issue, not just the problem of individual states and school districts. A poorly educated populace puts our nation in peril; leaves our economy unstable; and fuels the economic inequities of our citizenry.
Currently, only about 70 percent of all students graduate from high school on time, and too many of our students drop out of school or are unprepared for college and today’s family-sustaining jobs. These numbers are even higher in communities with high percentages of low-income students. Now is not the time to abandon nation-wide expectations that all students should graduate college and career ready—prepared to participate fully in economic and civic life. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act should maintain a meaningful federal role in setting that high bar of expectations for all student populations.
Additionally, JFF believes that dedicated investments in invention and innovation are important to finding and scaling up efficient and effective education solutions that make wise use of federal, state, and local funds. Just as in industry, investing in what works and testing evidence-based strategies are essential means to improving results and finding more cost-effective solutions. This is particularly important in secondary schools and in districts with exceptionally low graduation rates and persistently low academic performance, where low-income and underrepresented students are often concentrated and too often fall between the cracks.
We look forward to working with the Committee as you further develop this vital legislation with the goal of improving opportunities and supports for states, school districts, and most importantly all of our nation’s children and youth. We are committed to working with you to identify and encourage the development and scaling up of effective, data-driven programs that lead to student success among low-income and underrepresented young people—including those who are far off-track from graduation and those who have dropped out.
Given the need to spend every public dollar efficiently and effectively, raising college and career readiness and high school graduation rates among all student populations should be a minimum expectation and requirement for receiving funds under ESEA.
We thank you for your commitment to a strong education for our nation’s students. We look forward to continuing to work with you throughout the reauthorization process.
Marlene B. Seltzer
President & CEO, Jobs for the Future