Sen Obama Introduces Comprehensive Bill to Strengthen Nation's Middle Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today was joined by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in introducing the Success in the Middle Act, which would authorize grants to states and school districts to improve low-performing middle schools, help raise student achievement, and support our teachers. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has introduced a companion bill in the House. This bill would provide additional federal support to help students successfully complete the middle grades and turn under-performing middle schools around.

“For far too long, our education system has overlooked our nation’s middle schools, and failed to provide them the resources they need for our kids to succeed,” said Senator Obama “The middle school experience is vital to successs in high school and college, and the lack of attention to middle school on a federal level is reflected in the rising high school dropout rate. Like cities across the country, Chicago has seen only 54% of students graduate from high school by the age of 19.We need to do more to invest in these schools, and this legislation will invest in a new generation of leaders by strengthening our middle schools, teachers, and students. If our country wants to remain competitive in math and science on a global level, we must break down any barriers that are preventing our kids from getting the world-class education they deserve.”

“Middle school is a critical time in a student’s educational and social development. It is important to reach at-risk students early, before they experience a decline in grades and attendance. Research shows that sixth graders who do not attend school regularly or fail math and English are likely to drop out before graduating from high school,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)Committee. “This legislation will help reform our nation’s middle schools and provide increased support and training for middle schoolteachers. By targeting additional resources to these grades we will help our children reach their full potential and successfully transition to high school, college, and the workforce.”

“I am very grateful to Senator Obama for initiating the Middle School Bill in the Senate. Middle Schools have long been a forgotten area in our school system,” said Congressman Grijalva. “This legislation will reverse this pattern and invest in the most crucial years of the education pipeline to ensure our students succeed.”

The middle school years are a time when academic achievement for U.S. students falls dramatically. Minority and low-income students are disproportionately affected by underinvestment in middle schools. International math and science comparisons indicate that students in the U.S. do not start out behind students in other countries, but they do lag by the end of the middle grades. Many sixth grade students in urban, high poverty schools might attend school sporadically, might be suspended, or fail classes. Research shows that sixth graders with these indicators can account for 40-50% of eventual high school dropouts, and two-thirds of the students who will be moved out of their homes and into the juvenile justice system. Since middle schools are more likely than elementary schools or high schools to be identified for improvement, we must identify and address these problems immediately.

The Success in the Middle Act would authorize grants to states and school districts to improve low-performing middle schools. States would use research findings and promising practices, and work with community partners, such as universities and non-profits, to develop plans to improve middle school student achievement. Schools would use early identification data systems to focus on those students most at risk, and to determine how best to teach and support them. Funds would also be authorized to perform research on effective practices to support student learning, and on effective instruction for the middle grades. Specifically, this Act would:

· Authorize $1 billion a year to states to provide competitive grants to local school districts to improve low performing schools that contain middle grades. Using research findings and promising practices, states would develop detailed plans to improve middle school student achievement. Comprehensive centers, universities, and non-profits, would provide technical assistance to the states in developing these plans.

· Develop and utilize early identification data systems to identify those students most at risk of subsequently dropping out, and to assist school districts in providing targeted interventions to help all middle grades students succeed.

· Invest in effective strategies at the state and district level such as providing professional development and coaching to school leaders, and developing and implementing comprehensive, school-wide improvement efforts and implementing student supports.

· Authorize funds to generate and disseminate the results of research to identify and employ effective practices that support student learning and success at the middle level.

This legislation is supported by the National Education Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Middle School Association, Alliance for Excellent Education, ACT, College Board, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, International Reading Association, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, National Council of Teachers of English, National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, and many others.