With talk among educators and politicians revealing little likelihood for comprehensive federal reform of the nation's high schools, state governors are vowing to undertake the job themselves to improve student achievement and graduation rates and prepare graduates for college and the workplace.
The National Education Summit on High Schools, hosted in Washington, D.C., in February by the National Governors Association and Achieve, Inc., a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that helps states raise academic standards, released a road map (see sidebar below) for state leaders to follow to achieve the objectives, given declining performance and graduation levels.
Nearly one-third of all high school students fail to graduate and close to half of those who do graduate will lack the knowledge or skills they need for success in college, according to a recent report by the non-profit Manhattan Institute that the NGA cited.
Governors of 13 states, which together educate more than a third of all U.S. students, said they would aggressively pursue action through a new coalition, the American Diploma Project. States initially forming the coalition include Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas, but more states are expected to join.
As the summit ended, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation led five other foundations in committing a total of $23 million to help states translate the promises of the conference into action. A portion of the funding requires a one-to-one match from state grant recipients, bringing the total to $42 million.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, NGA chairman and co-chairman of the summit, says he is confident that other governors will act to improve high schools in their states. "Two years ago, four governors talked about high school reform in their state-of-the-state addresses, and 30 governors already have talked about it this year," Warner says.
At the NGA's annual meeting, July 16-19 in Des Moines, Iowa, "We're going to ask governors to report what they have done this year," Warner told DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION.
Some governors acted quickly. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he will talk to state legislators about creating a commission on accountability and governance.
Several states already have initiated high school improvement programs or are pursuing steps to create them:
* In Virginia, 94.3 percent of high school seniors graduated last year. Their class was the first in which students were required to pass Standards of Learning tests to earn a diploma under a program Warner launched in 2003 to aid students at-risk of not meeting the requirement.
* In Ohio, the state board of education is implementing a reform plan it adopted in November that calls for creating smaller schools and strengthening ties among high schools, colleges and universities as well as vocational training programs. Starting in 2007, Ohio high school seniors must pass a new five-part test to graduate.
* In Arizona, where the class of 2006 will be the first required to pass a graduation test, Gov. Janet Napolitano has proposed providing $10 million to fund one-on-one tutoring to help high school juniors pass it.
* Colorado Gov. Bill Owens wants his state legislature to enact a law requiring schools to notify a parent if their child fails to register for a pre-collegiate curriculum.
A former governor, Bob Wise of West Virginia, who also served in Congress, says the governors will need help to produce positive results. "When you come out of an NGA meeting like that, you're excited, but then you get home and find other things on your desk, including a legislative session, a budget shortfall, health care issues, and maybe a flood thrown in," says Wise.
He notes that after the summit, the governors talked about …