Part I: Improving High Schools
On Thursday, April 14, 2005, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings testified on lifelong learning before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Todays Extra Credit is the first in a two-part series highlighting the Secretarys testimony. The following is an excerpt from the Secretarys prepared remarks:
[W]e live in a very different world today than the one our parents and grandparents knew. In that world, a single occupation could last a lifetime, from Graduation Day to retirement; a single skill could ensure a worker a comfortable living for his or her family.
Today, guarantees of stability and security are fewer. But opportunities are far more numerous—if we are prepared to seize them.
The question is, are we prepared? Are children receiving a quality education? Do young adults have the skills they need to succeed in this new world?
To answer those questions, we must first look in the mirror. In Texas, we say that "if all you ever do is all youve ever done, all you ever get will be all youve ever gotten." The world has changed. We must change along with it. The old government model—top-down structures, process over results, multiple funding streams with limited flexibility—is simply not good enough anymore. We need to have the courage to change the way we do business.
This change starts with public education. No government program available at age 20 can make up for a poor education from ages 5-18.
A little over three years ago, Congress joined President Bush to tackle the educational status quo. The result was the No Child Left Behind Act.
Its focus on accountability, high standards, local control and research-based instruction is showing real results. Nearly every state now reports improved academic performance. And students once at greatest risk of being left behind—such as those in large urban school districts—are now leading the way.
The Presidents 2006 budget provides a $603 million increase for core Title I Grants to Local Education Agencies to keep this progress going strong. Now we must take the next step.
Earlier this year, Bill Gates told the nations governors that, "Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe."
That may have been an exaggeration. But not by much. The old high school model is not serving us as well as it can or should. Forty percent of schools offer no Advanced Placement courses. Fewer than half the states require at least three years of math or science to graduate. And we still measure performance by the amount of time students sit in classrooms, not by what they know and are able to do.
So it comes as no shock that nearly one-third of incoming ninth-graders do not make it to Graduation Day within four years. Or that, of those who do, less than one-third are prepared for college, according to the Manhattan Institute. Or that our college dropout rate is six times higher than Japans.
I believe Gov. Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the National Governors Association, speaks for all of us when he says, "it is imperative that we make reform of the American high school a national priority." I believe its time to apply the bipartisan principles of No Child Left Behind to grades 9 through 12.
President Bushs 2006 Budget would provide $1.5 billion for a High School Initiative to improve the academic achievement of at-risk students and measure performance annually to ensure all students get the help they need.
The Budget also contains unprecedented financial support for students taking Advanced Placement classes; new Enhanced Pell Grants to encourage more challenging coursework; and Community College Access Grants to let students earn college-level credit in high school for both academic and technical courses.
The key to success, of course, is a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. The President's Budget would make permanent the increase in loan forgiveness from $5,000 to $17,500 for highly qualified math, science and special education teachers serving low-income communities.
And the Presidents adjunct teacher program will bring outside professionals into the classroom, answering the question, why not have a NASA scientist teach physics in our public schools?
About Extra Credit
NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.
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