Push to Reform High Schools Gaining
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
U.S. governors wind up a year-long push for tougher high school standards this weekend touting actions by more than a dozen states that will make it harder for students to earn a high school diploma.
Governors said their initiative to redesign secondary education has galvanized states into sending students a stern message that they must learn more mathematics, science and other core academic subjects to succeed in college or the workforce.
"It's an economic and even a national security imperative that we have a well educated work force that is prepared to meet the challenges of the global marketplace," said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), outgoing chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), who made highschool reform the centerpiece of his agenda.
At the governors' annual summer gathering July 15-18 in Des Moines, Iowa, the NGA will crown Warner's initiative by distributing up to $15 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help implement high school reforms. The money will go to 10 states selected from the 31 that applied.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) will be installed as Warner's successor at the meeting and plans to focus on health care issues during his tenure as chairman.
The NGA also plans to announce that states will adopt uniform standards for calculating and reporting high school graduation rates. States have been faulted for claiming an average graduation rate of 83 percent, far higher than independent measures which estimate that less than 70 percent of public high school students nationwide graduate in four years. (See June 24 Stateline.org article " States fudging high school dropout rates ")
"If we're going to focus on fixing our high schools we've got to have a common definition for accurately measuring graduation rates," Warner told Stateline.org
A flurry of recent reports by education experts spotlighting the failings of America's high schools prompted governors to hold a National Education Summit on High Schools in February, at which education and business leaders urged more rigorous standards for high school students.
Although President George W. Bush's second-term initiative to expand federal testing mandates to high schools is sputtering, state-led efforts to raise academic standards for high school students are gaining traction, education experts say.
At the summit, 13 states formed a coalition to adopt high school standards developed by the American Diploma Project (ADP), which advocates raising graduation requirements to match the skills demanded by colleges and employers. Achieve Inc., a nonpartisan education research organization that developed the project, announced last month that five more states -- Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma - had joined the group, bringing the total to 18.
Six ADP states -- Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana -- as well as Illinois and Iowa, have adopted tougher course requirements for students to get a diploma since the education summit.
"This movement is coming from the states. It's not being driven by the federal government," said Matt Gandal, Achieve's vice president.
Mississippi's board of education in April adopted one of the most rigorous high school curricula in the nation. Beginning in 2008, Mississippi 9th graders will be required to complete four years of English, math, science and social studies to earn a diploma.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) signed legislation last month requiring all high school students to take a college-bound curriculum unless their parents sign an opt-out consent form. Delaware, Kentucky and Washington are launching programs that help high school students match their course work with their career and college goals after graduation.
Arkansas and Indiana already require college-bound curricula for all students. And starting with the high school class of 2011 in Indiana, students will have to complete the state's Core 40 curriculum for admission to Indiana's four-year public colleges.
"We have to send a message to our kids so they know we're serious that if they don't take these classes they won't get into college," Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen K. Reed said.