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Education Reporter

Governors Focus on High Schools
As Bush Seeks More Accountability
Strengthening the high school curriculum is the top priority of the National Governors Association this year, and President George W. Bush has pledged to demand more accountability and testing in high school in his second term.

The need for an educated workforce, the loss of jobs to other countries, and pressure to raise student achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are driving forces in the new attention to high school. Recent data show that high school dropouts are more prevalent in the U.S. than many leaders realized. Close to 30% of high school freshmen fail to graduate, and 11 states have high school completion rates of lower than 67%, according to data collected by Achieve Inc. and Jobs for the Future. Many inner-city public schools have a 50% dropout rate.

More than 25% of graduates who enter four-year colleges fail to return for sophomore year; in two-year institutions the dropout rate is twice as high. More than half of college students need at least one remedial math or English class. Employer surveys indicate that too many new hires lack the basics in reading, writing and math. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1-3-05)

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has been leading the charge for the governors' association. Innovations in his home state include tutoring and summer school for students who are at risk of dropping out of high school and subsidies for post-graduation technical training.

Citing data suggesting that few unskilled jobs will remain in the U.S. past 2010, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft told Education Week, "The preparation of our workforce is probably the number-one issue in Ohio." (11-24-04) In November the Ohio board of education's task force on high schools recommended more academic rigor, relevance for students, and stronger relationships between educators and their students. More testing may be on the way to identify 9th-graders who need help.

Trends toward smaller high schools and exit exams are part of the high school reform efforts (see Education Reporter, Sept. and Dec. 2004). The governors' association plans a national summit conference about high school reform ideas in February.

President Bush campaigned for re-election on a plan to improve educational accountability in the high school grades, promising "a new focus on math and science" and "a rigorous exam before graduation."

Upon graduation from high school, students must be ready to go to college or qualified to begin high-wage jobs, the president stated when he accepted the Republican nomination in New York last September. "Most new jobs are filled by people with at least two years of college, yet only about one in four students gets there."

A recent survey of 120 American corporations concluded that a third of employees in blue-chip companies wrote poorly and businesses were spending as much as $3.1 billion per year on remedial training. The study was conducted by the National Commission on Writing, a panel established by the College Board. (New York Times, 12-7-04)

The heavy use of e-mail in corporate settings has exposed many more employees' glaring writing deficiencies. An entire educational industry has sprouted to offer remedial writing instruction to adults, involving universities, for-profit schools, freelance teachers, workshops, video and on-line courses.

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