Improving High Schools Is No. 1 Priority for NGA’s New Chairman

By Lynn Olson — September 21, 2004 2 min read

The National Governors Association will spend the next year focused on ideas for improving high schools, with a particular attention on the senior year.

The NGA’s incoming chairman, Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, made the announcement at the group’s annual meeting, held this year July 17-19 in Seattle.

“In the knowledge-based economy of the future, all good jobs will require education, skill, and training that goes beyond high school,” Gov. Warner, a Democrat, said in making the announcement. Too often high school students lack the solid foundation they need for future success, he asserted. “High school students, particularly seniors, increasingly report that they have checked out of school long before the last bell rings,” he said.

As part of the yearlong “Redesigning the American High School” initiative, the NGA will:

  • Hold learning institutes for governors and their senior education advisers on ways states can support new high school options for students and help those at risk of not graduating;
  • Identify a series of best practices and publish a “top 10 list” of policy actions governors can take to improve high school education;
  • Convene town hall meetings around the country where students, parents, and educators can talk about high school and the senior year; and
  • Create a common set of definitions for graduation and dropout rates that governors can use to compare their progress relative to other states.

Broader Concern

The NGA’s commitment to redesigning U.S. high schools reflects a growing concern about high dropout rates, weak student engagement, and low levels of achievement, especially in big-city school systems. Some of the strategies being used in response range from linking high school exit standards more closely to the skills needed for success in work and college to the creation of smaller, more personalized learning environments. (“High Schools Nationwide Paring Down,” June 16, 2004.)

Given that only 70 percent of the nation’s high school students earn diplomas, and of those that do, only three in 10 are ready to attend four-year college, Mr. Warner said, people should no longer consider “senioritis” a benign rite of passage, but rather a waste of time, resources, and lost opportunities for learning.

Since his inauguration as governor in January 2002, Mr. Warner has promoted a number of initiatives to give Virginia’s high school students a jump on their college careers, including access to “virtual” Advanced Placement courses and expanded dual-enrollment programs that permit seniors to earn up to a semester’s worth of college credit while in high school.

He’s also launched intervention efforts for students who will not receive a diploma without passing the state’s high school exit tests.

Making high school more challenging and relevant to student needs will be at the heart of his initiative, Mr. Warner said.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Improving High Schools Is No. 1 Priority for NGA’s New Chairman


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