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Diorio (2008) reported that the history of education in America cannot be completely understood without looking at the development of four philosophical eras of education: 1) American education philosophical roots, 2) the 19th century development and growth of public schooling, 3) legislations of public school attendance as a result of the industrial revolution and urbanization, and 4) the government's involvement in public education.
During the early American roots of education, the family was responsible for educating, rearing, and training their children. Massachusetts' government became involved with education in 1642 when a law was passed requiring children to be taught the laws and religious philosophies of the colony. Although this early legislation mandated particular teachings, educational responsibility was still that of the parents (Diorio, 2008). Furthermore, the law stated that if the parents and family failed to educate the children according to the mandates, authorities had the right to take the children and place them with other families for proper education and training. In 1647 the government again became involved by passing a law requiring towns with 50 families or more to hire teachers to teach children in reading and writing. In addition to hiring instructors, teachers of Latin were required in towns with 100 or more families to prepare for Harvard College (Diorio, 2008). According to Sass (2005), the Middle colonies emphasized religious instruction and a level of basic instruction in reading. The first printed book on the principles of teaching (pedagogy) was published in 1710 by a German immigrant teacher (Diorio, 2008; Sass, 2005). In the southern colonies, public education began to emerge in the early 1700's. Philanthropists donated land in order for free schools to expand (Tyler, 1897). With the increase of free schools, the government's interest and means for providing for these schools became greater. With the increased involvement of the government in public education, compulsory education laws came into existence. The first compulsory education legislation was created in 1852 by Massachusetts, which required school for children ages 8-14 to attend school for three months (Diorio, 2008). Many years passed (over 60) from this first compulsory legislation until all states to passed similar compulsory laws (United States Department of Education, 2009).
Not only were early laws introduced concerning attendance but legislation also emerged concerning equality, particularly in the southern states. In 1892 the United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, upheld the constitutionality of Louisiana's "separate but equal" law. Such laws would continue to serve as a basis for implementing and continuing the practice of segregated education in the United States (Diorio, 2008).
At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States experienced an influx of immigrants who preferred that children work instead of going to school (Diorio, 2008). This idea quickly led to laws on child labor and by 1919 compulsory legislation was introduced which provided funds for transportation of students. This Industrial Revolution period marked the beginning of educational democracy which focused on children's learning experiences rather than teachers' instruction (Diorio, 2008). For the next 40 years, traditional educational practices disappeared with the start of new ideas along with government interest in education. Legislation on education continued with the ratification of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision with the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education which stated that separate was not equal (United States Department of Education, 2009). In 1958, the first federal legislation, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was passed and focused on giving support for the areas of science and math instruction (United States Department of Education, 2009). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) followed 10 years later and provided a focus on enhancing education for low-income families (ESEA, 2006). During the early 1960's, the government ruled, in two major law suits, that prayer in schools violated the constitution, stating that the official use of the Bible in public education was unconstitutional (United States Department of Education, 2009). Additional legislation was passed in 1975 by Congress that allowed for the fair education of all handicapped students known as The Education of All Handicapped Children Act. This act mandated that school systems implement Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which serves the needs of individual students with special needs (United States Department of Education, 2009). The U.S. Department of Education started a Cabinet agency which began the National Commission of Excellence in Education Committee (NCEE). The NCEE released a report called A Nation at Risk in 1983, which gave a synopsis of the status of education in America and from this report many reform efforts, including high stakes standardized testing began in most public schools. In 2001, less than 20 years later, the government enacted the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This legislation placed requirements and mandates on teachers, schools and all parties involved with the education of children.
From the implementation of NCLB, school systems must now show adequate yearly progress (AYP) in order to continue to be funded by the federal government and in order to avoid unwanted sanctions. The high school graduation rate is one criteria used to determine a high school's AYP status; therefore, school systems are searching for answers to increasing the high school graduation rate to not only improve the quality of students' lives but also to comply with educational mandates brought about from this NCLB Act PL 107-110 (United States Department of Education, 2009).
The No Child Left Behind Act set nationwide standards for improving public education such as all students are to be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014, as well as all students are to graduate from high school. To help accomplish these goals, this law requires achievement testing and individual states must set standards or criteria to judge whether all students are making adequate yearly progress (AYP). Georgia uses three standards for determining AYP status: Georgia High School Graduation Tests, Attendance, and the High School Graduation Rate.
Two statistics of great concern in Georgia are the dropout rate and the high school completion rate (Georgia Department of Education, 2010). Although the two problems appear to be the same, the terms are not interchangeable. Dropout rates measure the number of students leaving school from one semester to the next semester for many different reasons. Furthermore, a student who "drops out", but returns later and passes a General Educational Development (GED) diploma is still labeled a dropout. In Georgia, the dropout rate is 2.6 percent for grades 7-12, and for grades 9-12 the rate is higher at 3.6 percent. The high school completion rate measures the percentage of ninth graders who graduate four years later. The completion rate for Georgia in 2008 was 75.4 percent and 78 percent in 2009 (Georgia Department of Education, 2010).
Several educational reforms have been implemented in the state of Georgia over the past four years in an attempt to decrease students' failure rate on the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT); however, a large number of students continue to fail (Georgia Department of Education, 2009). The problem concerning the failure rate of the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) has become a major phenomenon because high schools across the state of Georgia are constantly looking for ways to assist students in successfully passing the GHSGT, which has a direct impact on the overall high school graduation completion rate (Georgia Department of Education, 2009).
Students in Georgia attend school based on their residence and school attendance zones. Georgia House Bill 251 offers parents the choice to send their children to another school, outside of their district's attendance zone. Whereas this Bill may help students to leave schools with low graduation rates and schools not making AYP, schools receiving these underachieving students often become overcrowded and in need of extra assistance to meet the educational needs of the influx of students. Therefore, a problem with the policy is that the shifting of low-performing students to different school sites does not solve the issue of low graduation rates and schools not making AYP.
House Bill (HB) 251 speaks to school choice and focuses on parents having the right to send their child to another public school if classroom space is available. Especially noteworthy is that parents from schools who are failing (not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) or schools in 'needs improvement' status) are given top primary in school choice. Often, schools do not make AYP and move into the Needs Improvement status due to low graduation rates. Understanding the details of the HB helps to build the case that increasing school accountability measures (attendance, academic performance, graduation rate) may decrease the need and desire of parents to use school choice. As a primary strategy for targeting the specific needs of students at-risk of not graduating from school, the state of Georgia has implemented the Graduation Coach Initiative. This initiative is designed to identify and support at-risk students and to keep them on track academically. The Georgia Department of Education allocated funding for graduation coaches in every middle and high school, as well as funding to provide professional development for the coaches. The initiative focuses on coordinating efforts among graduation coaches, counselors, and all stakeholders to provide strategies in the areas of student attendance, academics, college and career planning, family and community involvement, and personal/social development. This analysis seeks to discover how the passing of House Bill 251 has impacted Georgia's graduation rate and whether funding for graduating coaches should be continued. More specifically, how has the assistance of a Georgia high school graduation coach influenced the graduation rate?
Significance of the study
According to national statistics, 56% of all high school seniors failed the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 Assessments (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Federal laws mandate that all students pass the graduation tests; however, focus is continuously placed on first time test takers rather than all test takers (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). Testing from the Spring, 2009 Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) results indicate 56% of all first time test takers failed the GHSGT (GDOE Testing Brief, 2009). Based on this high failure rate, educational practitioners are influenced daily by the guidelines of House Bill 251, which allows parents to move their children to schools of choice, which are often those with high graduation rates. A thorough analysis of what this Bill means (both directly and indirectly) is significant because implications may emerge that have potential to increase overall student performance. Additionally, the study may inform educators and policy makers on the potential impact of HB 251.
Positionality of the analyst
The analyst holds the position of high school graduation coach. Since the implementation of this position in 2007, the title has remained the same but the position's responsibilities have been changing. The primary goal of the coach is to target students at-risk of dropping out of school and being a constant support and resource for these students. An additional goal is to work with students to create a graduation plan as early as the Freshman year of school and monitor that students are staying on the created plans.
Responsibilities of a high school graduation coach include initiating and monitoring support programs for all high school students. Other duties of the graduation coach include: Identifying at-risk students, generating school support and developing graduation teams, developing school-wide support and interventions, providing direct service and case management, developing transition programs and vertical teams with middle and high schools, developing relationships with parents/guardians and other stakeholders, and monitoring assessments and reporting (GDOE, 2010). The graduation coach must thoroughly review all student programs to make sure that students will graduate according to their graduation plans. The coach also provides training for the faculty, parents, and students on graduation requirements. These trainings cover such as preparing for the Georgia High School Graduation Test, academic success strategies to graduate on-time, and drop-out prevention. Graduation coaches continuously track and monitor the progress of students by conducting classroom visits, analyzing student data, and assisting students in realizing and reaching their goals.
In addition to being a high school graduation coach, the analyst is directly impacted by House Bill 251 since the site of employment of a school of choice. This means that parents in the district may choose to send their child to this particular location by choice, even if it is not in their attendance zone. The negative part for the analyst, about being a school of choice, is that there is no established relationship between the student and coach. A major component of the graduation coach initiative is "travel" through the high school years with a student, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and making it to the graduation ceremony.
Current scholarly literature
The primary aim of this analysis is to evaluate the impact of HB 251 on Georgia's High School Graduation Rate. The literature review will begin with a synopsis of the major problem with graduating 9th graders four years later, which is the issue of transitions. The review will also include an overview of current and related initiatives and policies, and a theoretical framework.
Transitioning to High School
The transition into high school is a critical point in the educational pathway, and ninth-grade is one of the significant areas of breakdown. Research in several districts suggests that as many as 40 percent of students do not get promoted from ninth- to 10th-grade on time, and fewer than 20 percent of those students recover and consequently fail to complete high school (Kemple, Herlihy, & Smith, 2005). The study revealed that in public school enrollment, there was (1) a sharp increase in the number of students enrolled in ninth-grade over the last 30 years, which indicates an increasing number of students are being retained and (2) the rate at which students disappear between ninth- and 10th-grade has more than doubled over the same time period, which indicates an increasing number of students dropping out of school. Because the transition into high school is difficult for many students, the end result is usually unsuccessful high school graduation. Haney (2004) reports that five key challenges exist that should be addressed by schools, states, and districts to support successful high school transitions (See Table 1).
Table 1: Five Transition Challenges (Haney, 2004)
Establish a monitoring and data system to determine why students are struggling and to hold schools accountable for helping these students
Address the individual instructional needs of students who are unprepared for rigorous high school and college work
Personalize the learning environment to address individual student needs
Build capacity with school staff in low-performing schools to support diverse student needs
Create real world connections to engage students and help them see the relevance in learning
Although the literature is clear that ninth grade's transition is a critical piece for successful high school graduation, research on high school transition is limited. The challenges offered by Haney (2004) are discussed in more detail in the next section and several examples and initiatives of how some states have addressed the five key challenges (Table 2) are proposed but no initiatives have been aggressively assessed to determine effectiveness for successful 9th grade transition.
Related challenges and initiatives/policies
In the last few years, policymakers, both local and state, have gained interest in addressing the challenge of reforming secondary education, particularly low-performing, high-poverty schools. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 placed a new focus on K-12 student achievement. Graduation rates and measures of high school student performance in reading and math are factored into state standards for making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) under NCLB. The process of redesigning NCLB is predicted to focus on high schools even more, as national consensus for reform on the high school level has never been stronger (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). A detailed review of the literature in this document supports the fact that the transition into high school, increased disengagement in core subjects, and unmotivated students leads to school failure and school dropout (Kemple, 2005). Haney (2004) specifies five challenges of creating successful high school transitions:
Challenge 1: Establish Monitoring and Accountability Systems
States have begun to adopt common system processes and methodologies for measuring graduation rates. Unfortunately, not many states have developed consistent monitoring systems which identify students who are at-risk of failing high school and identify students whose performance in middle school indicates high risk for school dropout (Haney, 2004).
Challenge 2: Address Diverse Instructional Needs of Incoming High School Students
States are pushing for rigorous coursework and more challenging graduation requirements. Graduation exams have caused problems for students who enter high school unprepared for rigorous content and courses such as Advance Placement (AP) and college prep courses. Furthermore, nationally, less than 30 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient on the 2005 basic mathematics and reading tests (Education Week, 2007). As well, most states have at least one-fourth of students starting high school with scores below proficient in math and reading on eighth-grade assessments (Education Week, 2006).
High schools must begin to meet the diverse needs of all students, especially those who require extra support to meet state grade level standards in reading and math. Additionally, remediation classes only remediate students performing below grade level and do not accelerate students who may be ready for rigorous high school and college prep courses.
Challenge 3: Personalize the Learning Environment
Elementary and middle schools do not involve as much bureaucracy and politics as high schools. High schools often harbor an environment which is less personalized and seemingly non-committed (Lee & Smith, 2001). In a survey of young students who dropped out of high school, almost half (47 percent) reported that school was boring or and the students expressed disinterest from most high school tasks (Lee & Smith, 2001). Thirty-eight percent of the students believed that they had "too much freedom", "down-time" and not enough expectations and rules (Haney, 2004). Additionally, ninth graders often get lost in the shuffle, skip school without the truancy being addressed, or silently fail without the use of any interventions by the school. There are many examples of strategies and interventions designed to individualize the school environment. Interventions include such ideas as creating learning communities and creating programs to increase teacher/student interactions, which make adults responsible for individual students who might otherwise fail.
The high school graduation initiative is a means of personalizing the high school's learning environment. Graduation coaches link students with community mentors, create individualized graduation plans for students, and develop credit-recovery programs. Graduation coaches are trained by a partnership between a national organization, and the Georgia Department of Education, to identify at-risk students, to understand the community and school organizations, and to use different techniques to target the at-risk student population.
Challenge 4: Build Capacity in Low-Performing Schools
Nationwide, low income and minority students are more likely to have teachers who are uncertified in their field or who lack a major or minor in the subject area that they teach (Education Trust, 2000). Within large urban districts, students in the highest-poverty schools are more likely to have teachers with less experience and who lack certification
(Philadelphia Education Fund, 2002). Within schools, students in lower-ability classes are less likely to have teachers with appropriate certification (Education Trust, 2000). There is also evidence that ninth-graders, particularly in low-performing high schools, are more likely to have less experienced and less qualified teachers in the core academic courses than students in upper grades (Neild, 2003). The inability to attract and retain experienced, qualified teachers is a clear barrier to improving student performance in low-performing schools, particularly for ninth-grade students. With the increased stresses and difficulties of the work environment in low-performing schools, meaningful incentives need to be given to attract teachers to these areas. Some states and districts have taken actions to attract highly qualified teachers to the neediest schools and to teach the students who need them most, especially students making the transition into high school. Some of the practices are identified in table 2.
Challenge 5: Create Connections to the Community, Employers and Higher Education
Many high schools are isolated from other institutions in their communities and have limited contact with students' families. Little effort is made to use the community as a resource for providing students with meaningful learning opportunities and for highlighting the potential relevance of what students are studying. As a result, some students become disengaged from school, are not motivated to work hard, and ultimately fail to progress through high school.
Kemple, Herlihy, and Smith (2005) reported that in a \survey of high school dropouts, seventy-five percent of dropouts surveyed said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard. Eighty-one percent of respondents said that if schools provided opportunities, they would not have dropped out of school. Many schools, districts, and states have created interventions and policies to address the challenges faced by students transitioning into high school.
Table 2: State Initiatives and Policies to Address Five Key Challenges (Haney, 2004)
K-20 Education Data Warehouse - provides capability to receive timely, efficient, consistent responses to inquiries into kindergarten through university education
House Bill 1347, enacted by the 2006 legislature, requires that high schools report the
number of freshmen not earning enough credits to become sophomores, which is critical for planning focused dropout prevention activities
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have integrated a ninth-grade "on-track" indicator for accountability
Authorized funding in 2001 to provide matching funds to districts to conduct interventions for students in grades six to nine who are at risk of failing the state's algebra exam
Graduation Coach Initiative - As part of a $1 billion increase in Georgia's investment in education, the state has implemented an initiative that puts a graduation coach in every public high school.
National attention is being given to the problem of increasing the high school graduation rate. Particularly in Georgia, the graduation rate is near the bottom of all 50 states (at 78%). One cause of this low graduation rate is the retention of ninth grade students until successful graduation. This analysis cited challenges that contribute to the issue of ninth grade transitions as well as listed some initiatives that Georgia and other states are trying in an attempt to resolve the high school transition problem. The initiatives discussed are a small sample of the programs underway nationwide to support the transition for students into high school. Most of the interventions focus on identifying early those students who may be at-risk of dropping out of school, addressing the needs of students who leave middle school unprepared for high school, and finding skilled teachers to work with ninth-graders to help students transition into high school.
Although House Bill 251 seeks to assist students in attending successful schools by offering school choice, Georgia's intervention of graduation coaches is focused on resolving the failure rate at all middle and high schools by providing resources to support learning. However, due to economic problems in Georgia, funds for graduation coaches have been reduced by $2.4 million. Local school systems have been directed to allocate graduation coaches among middle and high schools with priority given to schools with high numbers of students at-risk of dropping out. Funds for the professional development of graduation coaches also have been eliminated.
Current and related policies
Proposed Georgia House Bill 400 is related to HB 251 in that HB 400 also aims to develop programs to improve the high school graduation rate. This bill, called the Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia's Economy Act (BRIDGE), has other objectives such as providing programs of study for students at-risk of dropping out of high school, training counselors and coaches on effective student counseling, and providing for exemptions from certain parts of the graduation tests. Additionally, this house bill (BRIDGE), requires that students have an individual graduation plan as a guide to use for high school completion. The Bill (also known as SB 178) initially passed but was later vetoed by Governor Perdue and now remains in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
Similarly, Georgia Senate Bill 387 gives a web based resource to students in grades 6 through 12. The resource (website) provides the students counseling, advice, and information to assist in evaluating academic skills and career interests. The website also helps students in grades 8 through 12 come up with a graduation plan.
House Bill 149 was introduced as a "Move on When Ready Act" and provides that a student entering the eleventh or twelfth grade and attended the prior school year at a Georgia public high school can apply to an eligible college or university to take courses approved for college credit. This Bill was signed on April 29, 2009 to permit juniors and seniors to take college courses for credit, effective July 1, 2009. This particular legislation is related to House Bill 251 because students who attend the school of their choice may be given more rigorous high school courses and will more likely students become eligible to graduate in three years instead of four.
Wiener's Attribution Theory provides a foundation for understanding this analysis (Wiener, 1974). The theory further suggests that results are determined by external causes. The premise of House Bill 251 is that a school labeled as 'low-performing' is a cause for overall student failure and giving school choice to parents will allow students to possibly attend a 'high-performing' school and therefore result in success for the student. Further comparison is that because Wiener (1974) theorizes that there is always a reason that people do what they do, school choice permits parents to devise a reason for attending school out of district (poor test scores, poor attendance rates, poor graduation rates, etc) and parents expect this external situation to lead to a solution (better school equals better scores, better graduation rate, etc.).
Consequently, the attribution theory can be used to distinguish the difference high and low achievers' motivation level (Wiener, 1974). Weiner surmises that high achievers will initiate their own learning rather than avoid tasks and view failure as bad luck. On the contrary, low achievers are not initiators of learning and seek to avoid most tasks. Even when low achievers are successful, the attribution theory states that self-esteem, pride, and confidence are not increased because the success is not believed to have come from within. Based on this theory, the motivational level of the student (not the particular school) will determine the success.
Rationale for interpretive methods
House Bill 251 lends itself to an interpretive method of analysis rather than strictly qualitative. Many facets of the implementation of the bill require researchers to become philosophical about findings. For instance, the graduation rate in Georgia has experienced increases since the inception of the Graduation Coach Initiative; however, practitioners could argue that other factors, such as improvements in home environment, increased supplemental educational materials, and overall student population increase, could serve as the reason for the increased graduation rate, not necessarily the coach initiative. Using interpretative inquiry allowed the researcher to develop a relationship between the problem (low graduation rate) and the possible solution (Graduation Coach Initiative) and objectively negotiate the findings between the two using reflective interpretation.
Description of data collection process and data analysis
Data collection to address the house bill on school choice was derived by using local, state, and national data bases. The most crucial component to remember when collecting the data is understanding and distinguishing important terminology. As mentioned prior, increasing the high school graduation rate and decreasing the high school dropout rate are two entirely different data points. Graduation rate refers to the number of ninth graders who enter as freshman and graduate four years later and the dropout rate refers to students who disappear from the data base, often without a reason listed for disappearing. The graduation coach initiative is focused on data related to the graduation rate.
The analyst reviewed high school testing from the state of Georgia and this data had no identifiable information of students. Data was reported only in terms of pass/fail status for the Georgia High School Graduation Test since the implementation of the coaches.
Independent variables were the Graduation Coach Initiative and the implementation of House Bill 251. Data was reported from high schools that employed graduation coaches and offered school choice.
Data analysis and statistical treatment
Graphs and a written narrative were used to present the data. The graphs included quantitative data on the graduation rate in Georgia from 2007 (implementation of graduation coaches) until Spring, 2010 (present graduation rate). Since this is the first year of HB 251 concerning school choice for all parents (a similar rule has been in effect for students in failing schools), data on graduation status (pass/fail) will be collected in the Spring, 2011 on students taking advantage of school choice.
Implications of different meanings/interpretations
The findings which support the implementation of high school graduation coaches further imply that the assistance of support personnel may contribute to the success of other school programs. Padron (2009) devised recommendations for getting students from the kindergarten through 12th grade era to higher education and the work force. One recommendation was to develop support specialists and resources along the way to ensure progress. Patron (2009) contends that there exists a plethora of remedial needs from K-12, which travels into higher education. These developmental needs require college faculty to be creative in helping students to be successful in college. Furthermore, Patron (2009) is not only recommending support resources (such as graduation coaches) but also a data base of interventions and strategies to support the remedial needs of students transitioning from high school to college.
Synopsis of the main findings from the study
The graduation-coach program, a Georgia initiative, put a full-time paid staff person in every public high school in the state (about 330 schools), with the goal of keeping students on track to a diploma (Jacobson, 2007). Data from several studies suggest that the initiative is working. This analysis revealed the disturbing problem which exists concerning the transition to high school, revealing that high numbers of ninth graders never make it to actually graduate from high school. HB 251, which advocates school choice in order for parents to choose their child's school rather than attending their district area school, is shifting a population of students from one school site to a different school site but not addressing the need for higher success rates.
Recommendations: Negotiation of differences with suggestions for policy
Based on the review of literature of House Bill 251 and the data which indicates an increase in the Georgia High School Graduation rate, recommendations support the continued implementation of the Graduation Coach initiative. Specifically, the high school graduation rate has risen from 71% to 78% while the dropout rate has declined from 2006-2009 (Georgia Department of Education, 2009). Due to economic constraints of state funding, current legislation is being reviewed that allows local districts in the state, the choice of continuing the program. The data suggest that students have taken high school graduation more serious since a staff member has been assigned to create, review, and monitor individual graduation plans. The absence of this staff member (graduation coach) may cause a regression in the graduation rate, particularly for students who are at-risk of dropping out of school.
Since the high school graduation rate impacts AYP status based on the No Child Left Behind Act, House Bill 251 may need some modifications that speak to the receiving school's availability to meet the needs of the incoming students and outline accountability factors of the failing school in defense of those students whose parents can't provide transportation to another school of choice.