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Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing “ESEA Reauthorization: Improving America’s Secondary Schools”

As Prepared for Delivery

“Today’s hearing, ‘Improving America’s Secondary Schools,’ will explore the challenges facing America’s middle and high schools, and how ESEA reauthorization can help states and districts address those challenges.

“Without question, among the most serious challenges is the extraordinarily high dropout rate in the United States.  Each year, 1.2 million students drop out of school; that’s 7,000 per school day.

“School dropouts are at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers who earn a diploma.  They are more likely to be unemployed, and, over the course of a lifetime, a high school dropout will earn a quarter of a million dollars less in income than a high school graduate.  The dropout crisis is also hurting our economy; a decade’s worth of high school dropouts will cost the country over three trillion dollars in lost income.

“This crisis disproportionately affects students who are low-income, minority or have disabilities.  While only 70 percent of America’s students graduate from high school on time, that number drops to just over 50 percent for Hispanic, Black and Native American students.   Students from low-income backgrounds are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than their more affluent peers.

“Research shows that the middle grades are a critical time to influence whether students graduate from high school.  The decision to drop out is rarely the result of a single life event; in fact, many students exhibit academic warning signs years before they leave high school.  We need to look at ways to identify these students through the use of early-warning data systems.  As early as sixth grade, such systems can use information on, for instance, absence rates or course failures to identify students who are struggling.  And this information can be used to target appropriate interventions to get students back on track.

“ESEA reauthorization offers an important opportunity to improve outcomes for millions of students by turning around the lowest-performing secondary schools.  About 2,000, or 12 percent, of American high schools produce over 50 percent of the nation’s dropouts.  These so-called ‘dropout factories’ serve mostly low-income and minority students.  Twenty-eight percent of the nation’s students of color are enrolled in one of these dropout factories, and these schools account for more than half of Black and Hispanic high school dropouts.  84 percent of these lowest-performing high schools serve high-poverty student populations. 

“In addition to addressing the dropout crisis, we need to look at how we can meet the needs of all middle and high school students.  As we heard in previous hearings, too many students currently are graduating ill-prepared for the challenges of higher education and the workforce.

“In this reauthorization of ESEA, I intend for us to address the full spectrum of students’ educational needs.  We need to do more to ensure that every child gets a high-quality education early in life, and we need that support to start at birth, if not sooner.  In addition, we must do more for our secondary school students. Currently, only about ten percent of Title I funds go to high schools, although they educate about one-quarter of low-income students.

“Today, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on the most effective interventions to help students stay on track to graduate, and prepare for success in college and careers.  I also look forward to their recommendations for what it takes to create world-class secondary schools that help all students succeed.

“With that, I will turn to Senator Enzi for his opening statement.”