Published feb. 16, 2015

JFF’s Policy Recommendations to Prepare All Students for College, Careers, and Civic Life

While it may come as a surprise to some, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is moving ever onward, with the House Education and Workforce Committee approving the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) last week, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee moving forward with hearings and bipartisan discussions.  We are encouraged by Congressional members’ enthusiasm for improving the law, and we are particularly encouraged by the prospect of a bipartisan process in the Senate.  

The need for a strong ESEA reauthorization and a strong K-12 education system is clear:

  • Currently, over 36 million adults (1 in 6 adults) have low basic skills
  • Over 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year
  • 60% of postsecondary students need some type of remediation
  • Youth unemployment is higher than ever.

Yet, in places where education systems are able to break down siloes and pay attention to the needs of all students, we see great strides in high school graduation; college persistence and completion; and success in good careers.

Though the federal government provides only a small percentage of our nation’s overall investment in education, ESEA helps chart the course for our students’ success in college and in careers across the United States, and it’s essential we get it right. ESEA waivers are only a temporary solution. A reauthorized ESEA must help ensure that students are well prepared for college, careers, and civic life regardless of their zip code. 

There are several key tenets that are critical to student success for any ESEA reauthorization bill.  An improved law must:

Create better alignment between education systems

This includes focusing measures, activities, and assessments on what is expected of individuals in preparation for college and in the current and future labor market.  

Policy priorities include:

  • aligning and streamlining reporting and accountability metrics and expecting rigorous outcomes and gap closures
  • encouraging academic and work-based learning opportunities aligned to current labor market information
  • encouraging partnerships between schools, postsecondary institutions, employers, community-based organizations, and intermediaries
  • explicitly encouraging the adoption of promising dropout recovery partnerships and pathways to and through postsecondary education and careers—and related metrics
  • beginning to include outcomes on postsecondary success, such as college credits completed in high school or persistence into the first year of college.

Support innovation and the scaling of promising and proven strategies

These strategies must improve student K-12 and postsecondary outcomes—particularly among low-income, underprepared, and minority students. 

The federal government has an important role to play in pushing for more efficient pathways to and through K-12 and postsecondary credentials with value in the labor market, at low or no cost to students. Policy priorities include specific programming to test out and scale proven solutions for college and career readiness—with active involvement from K-12, postsecondary education, and employers. 

Place students at the center of reforms of teaching and learning, accountability, and assessment

This is to ensure that our education systems provide the rigor, depth, and skill sets needed for students to succeed in K-12, postsecondary education, and the labor market.  

Policy priorities include:

Including professional development for teachers and leaders on implementing improved assessments and related teaching and interventions is critical.  Equally important to preparation for college, careers, and civic life is encouraging a continuum of high-quality work-based learning, civic learning, digital learning, and personalized learning opportunities—through resources such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, school improvement resources, professional development, and innovation funds.

Most of our lives are spent in the working world and in civic daily life, and we must ensure that students are prepared for success.

Other components

Other important components of a redesigned ESEA include: 

  • Guardrails to protect the progress that’s already been made in states and districts, both in terms of educational achievement and investments in education. This includes keeping ESEA maintenance of effort provisions so that state support for K-12 education does not erode over time.
  • Ensuring that schools and districts have the drive and the capacity to improve when they are failing students
  • Ensuring that disaggregated achievement data on multiple indicators—including assessments, attendance, and graduation—are used to inform school improvement and pedagogy. 

Most importantly, the ESEA must ensure equity in the access to and quality of our education system—it is not only a civil right in our country, but it is essential to closing the gaps in outcomes and ensuring our nation’s economic success. 

Jobs for the Future looks forward to continuing our work with the House and the Senate to ensure a successful reauthorization that improves all students’ prospects for success in college and in working and civic life.   We applaud them for taking the first steps toward getting there.

Read our ESEA recommendations for Sen. Alexander's Draft

Read our recommendations jointly developed with KnowledgeWorks


Photograph courtesy of Pharr-San Juan Alamo Early College, 2013