Reforming High Schools a National Priority, U. S. Education Secretary Tells Governors

February 28, 2005

At the National Governors Association’s High School Summit today, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings called improving the quality of high school education in America “an urgent challenge” and “a national priority” and promoted President Bush’s High School Initiative to raise achievement levels.

“Improving the quality of high school education is an urgent challenge that can only be solved by working together, in a bipartisan fashion,” Spellings told the governors gathered in Washington to discuss the state of high school education throughout the country.

“Getting every child to graduate high school with a meaningful diploma in their hands is one of the biggest challenges our country faces. Today only 68 out of 100 entering ninth-graders will graduate from high school on schedule. Fewer than 20 will graduate on time from college. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require some post-secondary education,” Spellings said.

The Secretary noted that the high standards and accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind law are working to improve achievement for children in the lower grades. “Eighteen months after the law was signed, all 50 states had unique accountability plans in place. Not one Governor chose to leave his or her federal Title I money behind. Not one sent an army of lobbyists to Washington to find a way out of it. Not one complained that it was unconstitutional. As the Washington Post noted Friday, ‘[You] focus[ed your] energy’ not ‘on blocking testing and standards…[but] on trying to find ways to raise them.’ In other words, you buckled down and made it work.

“Today, state reading and math scores are on the rise. Nearly every state reports improved academic performance. And those ‘galloping gains’ are now being reported nationwide, especially in urban school districts,” Spellings said, which is why the tenets of No Child Left Behind—accountability and high academic standards—should be expanded to America’s high schools.

The Secretary also lauded several states’ efforts to promote high school reform. She noted that Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia has made redesigning the American High School his focus as chairman of the National Governors Association. In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee wants all high schools to offer rigorous coursework and advanced placement classes; In Wisconsin, Gov. Doyle favors paying teachers not only on the length of their service, but also on their ability to help children learn; and in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to allow high school students to earn college-level credits.

“Governors have a track record of solving the problems they talk about. States are where the action is – and where the opportunity to improve education lies,” Spellings said. “President Bush had faith that public school teachers, principals and administrators could improve academic performance. He had faith that his fellow Governors would make the law work. And that faith is being rewarded. We must stay the course.”

Spellings outlined the key sections of the president’s proposed High School Initiative, including:

  • Testing students in two additional high school grades in reading and math. The president’s 2006 budget contains $250 million to fund these additional tests.
  • More than $1.2 billion in the president’s budget to help at-risk or struggling high school students. Spellings noted that Governors and states would be able to invest it as they see fit–for dropout prevention, vocational and technical courses, college awareness programs or more. Schools could develop individualized performance plans for students at risk of falling behind or dropping out. The president’s budget also shifts decision-making power to the states by consolidating programs with a shared purpose and reallocating the money to the states.
  • The president has proposed a 73 percent increase in funding for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs to reach more low-income and minority students. The funds can be used to train teachers and defray costs such as exam fees.
  • The budget would also invest $45 million to encourage students to take more rigorous courses, including $33 million for Enhanced Pell Grants and a $12 million boost for the State Scholars program. This public/private partnership strives for a college-ready curriculum in every high school, including four years of English, three years of math and science, and two years of a foreign language. As of last fall just 24 states required three years of math to graduate and only 21 required three years of science.
  • A new Presidential Math-Science Scholars Program would award up to $5,000 each to low-income college students engaged in those demanding pursuits.
  • $500 million for a Teacher Incentive Fund to reward those teachers who make outstanding progress in raising student achievement or narrowing the achievement gap.
The full text of the Secretary’s remarks can be found at: