High School Should Be Harder, Governors Say
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
With the nation facing a future shortfall of highly skilled workers, more states should require students to take rigorous high school courses to prepare them for a knowledge-based economy, said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), chairman of the National Governors Association, a bipartisan organization that researches state policy issues.
High school courses and testing also need to better prepare students for college, said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R), co-chairman of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization launched by governors and business groups in 1996 to set education standards for the states. Just 68 percent of high school freshmen graduate in four years, and only 18 percent go on to graduate from college on time, Taft said.
Warner and Taft announced their reform agenda as the outline of the governors' fifth National Education Summit scheduled for Feb. 26-27 in Washington, D.C. The summit will bring together nearly all 50 governors and their education advisers to set a course for education policy in the states. The NGA and Achieve are co-hosting the event, which precedes the NGA's annual winter meeting.
The NGA and Achieve plan calls for states to require a high school curriculum with four years of English and a math curriculum that covers geometry, beginning and advanced algebra, and data analysis and statistics. Texas and Arkansas are the only two states that require students to take math courses through advanced algebra, according to Achieve. Eight states Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — have no state course requirements for high school graduation, Achieve found.
In addition to making the high school curriculum more rigorous, states and school systems should give lower-performing students more academic support and raise standards for teacher and principal training, the report says. States also should adopt common standards for measuring both high school and college graduation rates, and revamp state boards of education to oversee not just elementary and secondary education but also college.
Achieve studies over the past year have chronicled the decline of high school education. Nearly 40 percent of high school graduates are academically unprepared for either college or an entry-level job, according to an Achieve survey of 2,200 high school graduates, college professors and employers. And high school exit exams, required for graduation in 21 states, typically test only eighth-, ninth- or 10th grade skills, according to Achieve.
The chorus calling for high school reform now includes all 50 statehouses and the White House.
Warner has made high school reform the centerpiece initiative of his tenure as chairman of the NGA. His proposal is modeled on the program he launched in his home state that gives high school students more opportunities to earn college credit and improves career and technical education programs for students who do not want to go to college.
President Bush has proposed that testing under his landmark No Child Left Behind Act be extended through three years of high school and that seniors take national reading and mathematics tests. State tests mandated by the federal education law are currently required just once in high school and in grades three through eight.