Monday, February 28, 2005

Texas, Other States Aim to Improve High Schools

Coalition calls for better standards, testing, preparation for jobs or college
By Robert Pear
Monday, February 28, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Thirteen states with more than a third of the nation's students, including Texas, announced Sunday that they are forming a coalition to improve high schools by adopting higher standards, more rigorous courses and tougher examinations.

Unless the nation takes drastic measures on high schools, they said, it will lose its competitive position in the world economy.

"For the first time, a group of states will reshape an institution that has far outlasted its usefulness," said Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio, a Republican. "More than 5 million students each year -- 35 percent of public high school students nationwide -- will be expected to meet higher requirements under this landmark initiative."

Over the weekend, governors, business executives and Bush administration officials built political momentum for the ambitious agenda on high schools at an education summit meeting convened by the National Governors Association.

In addition to Texas, the states are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Other states are expected to join in the next few weeks.

Six foundations offered $23 million to help states remodel their high schools. The largest grant, $15 million, was from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which directly assists hundreds of high schools across the country.

Others supporting the initiative are the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, with a grant of $4 million; the Carnegie Corporation of New York, $2 million; and the Wallace Foundation and the Prudential Foundation, $1 million each.

Governors and education officials in the 13 states said they would take these steps:

* Raise high school standards to reflect the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in college or the work force.

* Restore the value of a high school diploma by requiring all students to take rigorous courses that prepare them for college and work.

* Test students regularly to measure their progress in meeting stringent state standards. Colleges and employers now pay little attention to state test results because the exams do not measure the skills that students will ultimately need.

* Hold high schools accountable by publishing more data on dropout and graduation rates. Some states focus on the proportion of 12th-graders who fail to graduate, overlooking the fact that many high school students drop out before their senior year.

President Bush's education secretary, Margaret Spellings, welcomed the new initiative.

"Talk is cheap," she told the governors, "but you all have a record of solving the problems you talk about."

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat who is chairman of the association, said governors want higher standards for high schools but not "the rigidity" of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, with its "bureaucratic oversight from Washington."

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