Canton Repository

February 28, 2005

Governor: Ohio committed to strengthening high schools

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Ohio has joined with a dozen other states in a new coalition that aims to strengthen the high school diploma, better preparing students for higher education and the workplace, Gov. Bob Taft announced Sunday.

Taft announced the coalition at the end of a two-day national education summit focused on high schools.

States in the coalition are committed to raising high school standards, requiring all students to take rigorous “college and work-ready curriculum,” developing assessments of progress and holding high schools and colleges accountable for their students’ success, he said.

In addition to Ohio, the other states participating are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas.

Taft said more states are expected to join.

“Over the next few months, each state will develop a very specific plan,” he said. “Accomplishing these goals will not be easy.”

The summit, part of the National Governors Association winter meeting, was held to highlight the need to reduce dropout rates and align the requirements for a high school diploma with the demands of higher education and the job market.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates addressed the summit Saturday, and called the American high school “obsolete.”

Gates said high schools have to become more rigorous and relevant, with stronger relationships between students and teachers, to improve education and extend its benefits to low-income and minority students.

On Sunday, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pledged President Bush’s support in the effort to improve high schools.

“The need has never been more clear or more urgent and the president and I could not agree with you more,” she said.

Officials released various statistics they said underscore the need to raise standards and reduce dropout rates.

As a result of inadequate preparation, almost one-third of college students need to take remedial courses, according to the data. And almost one-third of students fail to graduate from high school on time.

American students lag their counterparts in other countries in math, science and problem solving, a summit report said.

As an example of what Ohio is doing to improve high schools, Taft has cited a project to create smaller learning communities within 17 urban high schools in the state, including McKinley High School in Canton.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is helping to finance that project.

Taft discussed how being part of the high school improvement coalition would affect Ohio schools.

One of the state’s first steps will involve “working with two- and four-year colleges to ask them to better define what they expect ... so that we can build that into our standards for a college-ready diploma,” he said.

Ohio officials still have to figure out how to redesign schools to make them more effective, and determine what does and does not work, he said.

Also announced at the summit was a new $23 million privately funded grant program to “help states create and implement policy strategies designed to improve graduation and college-readiness rates,” according to a statement from the Gates Foundation and the National Governors Association.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, NGA chairman, said states can apply for the funds in 45 days. Winners will be announced in July, he said.

The Gates Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Carnegie Corp. of New York, Wallace Foundation, Prudential Foundation and State Farm Foundation are funding the program.

Taft said Ohio plans to apply for a grant, which will require a state match.