New Directions for Education

John Podesta testifies to the Senate HELP Committee on the importance of the Graduation Promise Act.

Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta testified on Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee during a reauthorization hearing for the No Child Left Behind Act.

The hearing focused on modernizing middle and high schools for the 21st century. Other witnesses included Robert Balfanz, Associate Director of the Talent Development Middle School Project; Gov. Bob Wise, President of Alliance for Excellent Education; Tony Habit, President of the New Schools Project; and Edna Varner, Senior Program Consultant of the Hamilton County Public Education Foundation and Public Schools.

Podesta testified about the importance of addressing the graduation crisis, focusing on the Graduation Promise Act and its ability to boost graduation rates. His testimony came a day after the Graduation Promise Act was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

The Act reflects three provisions to address the dropout crisis introduced in “Addressing America’s Dropout Challenge,” a paper co-authored by CAP and Jobs for the Future:

  • It allows states to create data systems that enable them to calculate graduation rates and identify which high schools have high dropout rates. Incentives will be created to encourage schools to focus their attention on students at risk of dropping out. Interventions can then be planned for those students and schools with high dropout rates.
  • It provides five-year grants to schools, districts, higher education institutions, and/or nonprofit organizations for the development, implementation, and replication of effective secondary school models for struggling students and dropouts.
  • It gives five-year grants to states and districts that have already begun to improve graduation rates to share their practices and models with others.

Research has made it possible to identify a pattern of behaviors that would indicate if a student is likely to drop out. And the GPA provides the federal government with a clear role in addressing the dropout crisis.

“Every day in the United States 7,000 students drop out of school,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) said in his opening remarks. “If the high school students who dropped out of the class of 2006 had graduated instead, the nation’s economy would have benefited from an additional $309 billion dollars in income that they would have earned over their lifetime.”

Podesta echoed this sentiment, arguing that, “simply put, I think we are headed as a nation to an erosion of our economic well-being and our way of life unless we find more effective ways to keep our kids in school [and] increase their ability to compete with others in a turbulent globalized economy.”

Podesta cited some of the innovative solutions from “Addressing America’s Dropout Challenge” as examples of how we can better invest in our students, including expanded learning time, rapid response, and intervention and intensive focus on language and math in the ninth grade. This refocus, captured in the GPA, will better prepare students for advancement to the tenth grade, which is a strong predictor of future on-time graduation.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) agreed that the GPA will better aim funds at schools with high dropout rates, emphasizing that we now know enough about the crisis and have sufficient data about particular problem areas to take significant and direct action.

Robert Balfanz also expressed the Talent Development Middle School Project’s support for the GPA, stating that the federal government must include targeting resources to high schools that need it most in exchange for evidence-based reforms that will decrease the graduation dropout rate.


Sen. Jonny Isakson (R-GA) acknowledged and Podesta agreed that there is no “cookie cutter” way to solve the graduation dropout rate problem. Yet the GPA takes an important step by investing in research and targeting real improvement measures to low performing schools.

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