Bill aims to turn around low-performing schools

Mar. 16, 2013 @ 09:47 AM

Legislation to turn around low-performing schools in North Carolina and the rest of the nation was announced Friday during a visit to Hillside High School by U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

Hagan’s bill, introduced in the Senate this week, focuses on the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the nation. It creates a competitive grant program in which states get money to implement new models to boost achievement.

The bill would also reward schools that are making significant progress in closing their achievement gap.

“States will compete for federal funding to design innovative programs that will reward high-poverty schools and districts that have successfully reached their targets on increasing performance for all students,” Hagan said of the bill, called the School Turnaround and Rewards (STAR) Act.

“We do not have to accept continued failure in our schools, and the STAR Act will equip our lowest-performing schools and districts with the tools they need to turn around and get our students on the right track,” Hagan said.

With federal programs like No Child Left Behind, she said, schools too often are punished, “even when they are making progress.”

“It’s time to stop punishing schools and start rewarding them for the progress they’re making,” Hagan said. “Hillside High School serves as a model for turning around a once-struggling school, and my legislation will help build on and replicate this progress at schools and districts across our state and around the country.”

Before her remarks, Hagan dropped in on four classrooms at Hillside and talked to students studying subjects that included advanced English and the post-Civil War Reconstruction period.

Hagan, chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, cited a 21 percent jump in composite achievement scores at Hillside from 2010 to 2011, a dropout rate down to 2 percent and an improved attendance rate.

“That’s just fabulous,” Hagan said. “The path of least resistance really doesn’t work anymore. We’ve got to think outside the box. We’ve got to think about new ways to be creative and help our students learn. And we can’t accept anything less than the best for what we do and what our students do.”

Hagan said her legislation aims to “build on what we’re seeing at Hillside, and replicate those gains.”

In the coming months, Hagan said, she’ll work to advance the STAR Act and tell others in the U.S. Senate “the great things that I’ve seen here today.”