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Improving America's Secondary Schools: Congressional Testimony

Cassius O. Johnson

On May 4, 2010, JFF Education Policy Director Cassius Johnson testified before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about how to restructure the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Johnson noted that the continued failure of secondary school systems in the United States to dramatically improve the educational attainment of low-income young people, young people of color, and those in rural America is perhaps the single most significant factor in our country’s drop from first to tenth in the world in the completion rate of postsecondary degrees by age 35. Reversing this course, he said, will require strong and coordinated action and a strengthened federal-state partnership to raise the high graduation rate and the college preparedness level of high school graduates, especially among those from low-income families.

From working with school, district, and state partners to improve college-ready high school graduation, JFF has learned that dramatically better outcomes—especially for low-income students and students of color—are possible. Drawing on that work, Johnson made two recommendations to Congress on behalf of JFF:

  • Invest in scaling up what works. Nationally, numerous strategies and school models, such as early college high schools, have demonstrated effectiveness in increasing college and career-readiness for low-income students. Congress should continue Race to the Top, i3, and other funding streams that focus resources to ensure more widespread adoption and implementation of innovation strategies and approaches at secondary schools.
  • Invest in invention. The nation will not move the needle dramatically on graduation rates without combining the redesign of failing high schools with a sustained effort in the invention of new models designed to help young people get back on track to high school graduation and postsecondary attainment. In the big cities at ground zero of the dropout crisis; educators, youth developers, and social entrepreneurs have begun to invent new solutions that are leading to “beat the odds” results. Along with scaling innovative strategies, Congress should support the research and development of new school models that show promise in serving off-track students, English learners, and students in rural areas.