- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

Thirteen of the nation’s governors have agreed to form a coalition to reshape high schools in their states to make courses more challenging and align the curriculum with demands of college and the workplace.

“For the first time, a group of states will reshape an American institution that has far outlasted its effectiveness,” said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican and co-chairman of the coalition Achieve Inc.

“More than 5 million American students each year — 35 percent of public school students nationwide — will be expected to meet higher requirements under this landmark initiative,” called the American Diploma Project, he said.

The effort is a result of a National Education Summit convened during the weekend by the National Governors Association. The participating states are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas.

“What we need is rigor,” said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican and co-chairman of the NGA. “What we have is rigor mortis.”

The aim of the American Diploma Project is to have the state school systems beef up high school coursework — particularly English, math and science — by aligning standards to the needs of employers and universities regardless of a student’s career plans.

Schools would be required to use high school graduation exit exams, with the bar set at 12th-grade level work.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings addressed the NGA’s final weekend meeting yesterday. The meeting drew 45 governors to map plans for states to improve high schools on a rapid schedule.

“This is a problem that’s been building for years, and it’s one we can’t avoid, a national priority,” Mrs. Spellings said. “The purpose of the summit was to propel state action. Let’s seize the opportunity.”

The secretary made a pitch for President Bush’s $1.5 billion proposal to bring all federally funded high schools under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), thus requiring additional reading and math testing in ninth and 11th grades. But the proposal received tepid support at the NGA meeting.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on education reform, told the governors as part of a panel discussion that the administration’s high school initiative “has insufficient support [to pass] in the House of Representatives right now.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said as a panel participant that he supports the NCLB expansion but cautioned: “Before we hurtle headlong into it, we need to look at the paperwork burden [imposed on schools] and reduce that.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, said in an interview that “there is a fair amount of anxiety whether it should be a federal or state responsibility” to ratchet up high school learning standards.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said the governors’ diploma project is “a promising development to get the high school agenda more front and center in the states. But there has not been a sufficient conversation with local schools how to translate this into action.”

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