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ACE Act Essential to Reforming Low-Performing Schools

Legislation Provides Models, Resources for Successful School Reform

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Washington, Dec 1, 2011 | comments

With Congress still seeking to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) today introduced bold school reform legislation that would offer low-performing schools research-based turnaround models to improve student performance and the resources to make reform a reality. The legislation—the Achieving Change in Education (ACE) Act—would provide funding through School Improvement Grants for local school districts that choose and implement—with family and community input—one of six intervention models at a chronically low-performing school. Polis and Davis co-chair the New Democrat Coalition Education Task Force.

“America’s children must never be trapped in schools that fail to prepare them to compete and succeed in the global economy,” said Polis. “The ACE Act would create momentous change at persistently low-performing public schools by supporting evidence-based turnaround models that improve student performance. It is critical that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act include these or similar proposals that support schools as they seek to improve and provide a quality education to every child.”

“This bill is a step forward in improving student outcomes in our persistently low-performing schools – a step that would go even further by defining clear goals and progress targets for these schools to meet,” added Amy Wilkins, vice president for Government Affairs and Communications at The Education Trust. “We applaud Congressman Polis’ fearless commitment to equity in our nation’s schools and look forward to working with him to ensure that the tens of thousands of students attending these schools – often low-income students and students of color – get the kind of high-quality education they both need and deserve.”

“Congressman Polis has taken an important step, with the introduction of the ACE Act to ensure the country prioritizes struggling schools and takes decisive action to turn them around,” said Cynthia Brown, vice president for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The ACE Act’s six intervention models include:

Transformation Model: Replace the principal in some circumstances, strengthen staffing, apply a research-based instructional program, provide extended learning time, and implement a new governance and flexibility in program, staffing, budgeting and scheduling decisions.

Turnaround Model: Replace the principal in some circumstances, rehire no more than 50 percent of staff, apply a research-based instructional program, provide extended learning time, and implement a new governance structure.

Restart Model: Convert or close a school and reopen it under the management of an effective and high-quality charter operator, charter management, or education management organization.

School Closure Model. Close the school and enroll the students in higher-performing public schools within the district.

School Engagement Model. Replace the principal in some circumstances, lengthen the school year, and implement an early warning indicator dropout prevention and recovery system focused on attendance, behavior and course credit, along with flexibility in program, staffing, budgeting and scheduling decisions.

Expanded School Choice Model. Close the school and transfer students, along with the School Improvement Grants, to one or more existing, high-performing traditional school in the same or another school district, under a mutual agreement, or to a high-performing charter school.

Under any of the bill’s models that remove the principal, turnaround schools may retain principals if they have been at the school for less than two years; or less than three years and have led a turnaround plan in that school.

The bill would authorize $600 million in FY 2012 (and such sums as necessary in the next four years) for states that apply for School Improvement Grants. States would have to spend 90 percent of the funds on subgrants to school districts for turning around the state’s bottom 5 percent academically performing schools, including those with below proficient student assessment scores and low graduation rates. Many of these schools are known as “dropout factories” because they graduate less than 6 out of 10 students from high school.

The ACE Act would also reward schools that are making significant progress in: increasing student achievement and growth; closing their achievement gaps; and, increasing high school graduation rates, if a high school. Funds could be used to financially reward principals, teachers and other staff, to improve or enrich the school or district’s program, and to increase flexibility in budgeting and staffing decisions. The bill would authorize $300 million in FY 2012 (such sums as necessary in the next four years) for states that apply for these funds.

Polis has already introduced this year legislation touching on many significant sections of ESEA, including: Race to the Top grants that focus on improving educator effectiveness, public education standards, school data use, and early childhood education; teacher training and professional development; expanding and replicating quality charter schools; strengthening computer science education; increasing special education funding; and student non-discrimination.

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