Never too Late: Why ESEA must fill the Missing Middle

NeverTooLateCover-231x300When President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002, the U.S. national high school graduation rate was 72.6 percent. Today, the national high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high of 81 percent and the number of low-graduation-rate high schools has declined considerably. While this progress is notable, significant work remains to ensure all students graduate from high school prepared for college, a career, and civic life.

Evidence demonstrates that investments in high school turnaround efforts have succeeded. Moreover, research shows that the current federal strategy of investing in the early years and in postsecondary education, while largely skipping over middle and high schools, is unlikely to yield the greatest returns. A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, titled Never too Late: Why ESEA must fill the Missing Middle, asserts that Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization provides the opportunity to implement a more coherent, evidence-based policy of reform and investment that includes middle and high schools.

The term “missing middle” refers to the inequitable distribution of federal funds between grade spans, so named because federal resources for middle and high schools are paltry in comparison to investments in early childhood, elementary schools, and postsecondary education. The investment of federal education funding is extremely uneven among the grade spans. While the report does not recommend that the federal government should reduce its spending in the early grades or postsecondary education, it calls for a more equitable allocation of resources. Authors state that the U.S. Congress should make such an equitable allocation a top priority for the ESEA reauthorization. The returns on current investments in the early grades and postsecondary education will not be realized fully if the federal government does not build on those efforts by targeting investments to middle and high schools to prepare students for high school graduation.

To read the report, visit