State Action and Legislation - Improving Academic Achievement

The gap in knowledge proficiency and academic achievement between African American students and their Caucasian peers is the topic of discussion in Congress’s current push to reauthorize the Elementary Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The black/white achievement gap is composed of several, often overlapping, smaller gaps including (1) the gaps between students attending low and high performing schools; (2) the performance gaps between students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds; and (3) the gaps between students in different school settings and geographic regions. Though specific districts and states have made progress with respect to closing the black/white achievement gap, disparities nationally have persisted, and in some cases, widened.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) hopes to usher in sweeping changes with reauthorization. Reforms will require research-based, data-driven evidence around school improvement, particularly for the lowest performing schools labeled as “persistently low-achieving, either for overall performance or for achievement gaps.” In their education reform efforts, states have also targeted what they perceive as barriers to academic success. Listed below are several promising state initiatives to improve early education, increase academic achievement, and lower dropout rates, all which have been extracted from NBCSL’s 2011 follow-up Report on Closing the Achievement Gap. The publication not only highlights model legislation, but covers changes in federal and national policy over the last decade, while elaborating on progress and current challenges.

Early Childhood Education

north carolinaNORTH CAROLINA - North Carolina Star Rated License System, Department of Education (Non-legislative)

Summary All licensed programs enter the system with a 1 rating and are awarded higher points based on program standards, including child-staff ratio and measurements of child-adult interactions.

Background This program is to establish statewide standards for effective early childhood education.

In 1999, the Division of Child Development (DCD) began issuing star rated licenses to all eligible child care centers and family child care homes in the state. Facilities receive a rating of one to five stars. A rating of one star indicates that a child care program meets the state’s minimum licensing standards for child care. Programs can then choose to voluntarily meet higher standards and apply for a two- to five-star license.

Goals The previous licensing system did not offer enough information to parents about the quality of programs. In the past, programs that received an “A” were simply meeting basic requirements, but parents assumed this was the highest rating. North Carolina policymakers hope the new rating provides a clearer understanding, with minimized confusion. Policymakers also seek to recognize those programs providing higher quality care and set benchmarks for organizations seeking to improve their services and rating.


  • Because there is an entirely new benchmark, impact of the new system cannot be compared to previous years, making longitudinal data collection difficult.

connecticutCONNECTICUT – An Act Concerning Early Childhood Education and the Establishment of a Coordinated System of Early Care and Education and Child Development (SB 1103)

Summary The bill requires school districts to offer preschool; provide additional school readiness grants, and requires the Department of Education to begin a state-wide longitudinal evaluation of the school readiness program.

Sponsors Rep. Bruce V. Morris, Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, Rep. Toni E. Walker, Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, Sen. Edwin A. Gomes, et al.

Background As a low-cost measure, states are beginning to coordinate agency efforts and oversight across various services including pre-kindergarten and childcare. A single coordinating entity can improve the quality of services provided by maximizing services and aligning goals.

Goals The goals from consolidating and streamlining early childhood education and child care programs for children ages zero to eight are the following:

  • To increase family engagement;
  • To decrease special education placements;
  • To increase oral language development and social competence; and
  • To increase participation in early childhood education programs.


  • A mandate requiring districts to provide preschool without additional funding could cause a reduction in competing education programs designed to close the achievement gap.
  • The law increases the funding burden on strained school districts and municipalities.

Drop-out prevention

louisianaLOUISIANA - La. School Dropout Prevention Act of 2008 (HB No. 1091)

Summary This bill establishes a drop-out prevention and recovery program. The state also mandates an exit interview with the student and his/her caretaker along with information regarding the availability of employment opportunities without a high school diploma.

Sponsors Rep. Regina Barrow, et al

Background Proposed legislation establishes a drop-out prevention and recovery program that requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to work alongside public school systems to incorporate drop-out prevention strategies and gather data that will improve graduation rates and educational outcomes.

The bill requires BESE to develop an intervention strategy for school systems with a four-year cohort graduation rate of less than 70%. This may include the following strategies:

  • Alternative programs designed to re-engage drop-outs;
  • Early intervention for students who are at risk of failing Algebra I or 9th grade math;
  • Coaching for middle school students who are below grade level in reading and math; and
  • Increased/improved communication between schools and students and their parents/guardians about the availability of local after-school programs, academic enrichment, and other activities offered.


  • To improve graduation rates and educational outcomes for all grade levels;
  • To eliminate ineffective programs through new tracking and evaluation systems; and
  • To help students and their caretakers understand what their employment prospects are without a high school diploma.


  • Drop-out prevention strategies vary widely. The US Department of Education has identified additional strategies to include, creating a more personalized learning environment for students and providing instruction that is motivating and interesting. This component should play a greater role in Louisiana’s legislation.

School Safety

connecticutCONNECTICUT – An Act Concerning School Learning Environment (HB 5826)

Summary Requires each local and regional board of education to adopt a policy to address bullying in its schools. Each policy is required to be submitted to the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Sponsors Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, et al.

Background Agencies and lawmakers crafted legislation to curb increased gang violence, with a focus on prevention and intervention.

Goal To prevent/reduce incidents of and improve intervention regarding school bullying by providing teachers with professional development in school bullying and suicide prevention.


  • The bill does not provide sufficient funding for implementation costs, along with staffing and space issues.
  • More clarity is needed to help staff determine what behavior is serious enough to receive in-school vs. out-of-school suspension.

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