(At the request of Mr. Reid, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the Record.) -- (Senate - October 26, 2007)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I introduced the Success in the Middle Act to help raise student achievement, support teachers, and improve schools that serve students in the middle grades.
During these grades, schools begin steering students towards success in the upper grades and adult life, rather than just consolidating elementary learning. It is a time when academic achievement for students falls, especially among minority and low-income students. International math and science comparisons indicate that students in the United States do not start out behind students in other countries, but they do lag by the end of the middle grades.
Recently, I read an article about struggling urban schools and the story of a mother of three who was frustrated with the schools available for her children. When her son started falling behind in the seventh grade, he never got the support he needed, and when she called the school to complain, nothing changed. This mother said that maybe the system is not designed for people like her and her children. It is disheartening for us to hear that, and yet we all know this is true for too many students and for too many families in America.
Our neglect of these students is reflected in a rising dropout rate. In Chicago, of every 100 students who enter the ninth grade, only 54 graduate from high school by the age of 19. The numbers are equally dismal in other large cities and in impoverished rural districts as well. And we know that without a high school diploma, it is hard to get a job and even harder to find one that pays well.
The dropout problem starts well before high school. We now know that troubling indicators can be identified for students in the middle grades. Early adolescence is the age at which our children often begin experimenting with risky behaviors and also a time when the consequences increase for bad choices. Many sixth grade students in urban, high-poverty schools might attend school sporadically, be suspended, or fail classes. Research shows that sixth graders with these indicators can account for 40 to 50 percent 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. If we can identify these problems, we can address them, and that is what the Success in the Middle Act is designed to do.
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.
This proposal is similar to legislation introduced in the House by Congressman Grijalva. I appreciate the support of Senator Reed, my colleague on the HELP Committee, and I urge others to join us in this effort.
As the Senate moves to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, I hope we consider the importance of middle schools, recognizing that students in these grades face challenges different from those they faced earlier in elementary school and those they will face later in high school. If we are serious about the issue of high school success, we cannot continue to ignore the challenges students face in those few years before high school.
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