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ACHIEVE AND NGA HOST NATIONAL EDUCATION SUMMIT ON HIGH SCHOOLS: Governors, Educators, and Business Leaders Meet to Discuss High School Reform

"When this summit ends, our work in states and territories will just be beginning. It's time to turn rhetoric into reality."

On February 26-27, forty-five governors joined educators and business leaders at the 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools to discuss strategies to transform America’s high schools and restore the value of a high school diploma. The summit, which was cosponsored by Achieve, Inc., and the National Governors Association (NGA), sought to redefine the role of the high school in America while better connecting its curriculum to the expectations that high school graduates will face in college and the workforce.

“This summit is a major step forward in what I hope will be sustained momentum towards comprehensive reform in dozens of states throughout the country,” said NGA Chairman and Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D). “When this summit ends, our work in states and territories will just be beginning. It’s time to turn rhetoric into reality.”

During the summit, governors and participants focused on an array of reform-related issues that were released as part of a five-point action agenda states can follow to raise graduation rates and close preparation gaps. According to the action agenda, governors and business and education leaders can ensure that all high school graduates are prepared for postsecondary education and work by developing a comprehensive plan for their states to

  • restore value to the high school diploma;
  • redesign high schools;
  • give high school students the excellent teachers and principals they need;
  • set goals, measure progress, and hold high schools and colleges accountable; and
  • streamline and improve educational governance.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who addressed the attendees, remarked on the similarities between the governors’ action agenda and President Bush’s High School Initiative. She said that improving the quality of high school education is a problem that has been building for years. “It’s one we cannot avoid-a national priority,” Spellings said.

At the end of her speech, Spellings said that a tremendous battle must be won to reform American high schools. “Change is hard,” she said. “Getting every child to graduate high school-with a meaningful diploma in their hands-is one of the biggest challenges our country faces. It’s never been done. That’s why there is push-back from both sides of the political spectrum. In Washington, when both sides attack you, it means you’re doing something right.”

In the keynote address, Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and cofounder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, observed that today’s high schools are unequipped to adequately prepare the workforce of the twenty-first century. “Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a fifty-year-old mainframe,” he said. “It’s the wrong tool for the times.”

Gates, whose foundation has invested nearly $1 billion so far to help redesign the American high school, talked about the three building blocks of better high schools, the “new three r’s”: Rigor-making sure that all students are given a challenging curriculum; Relevance-ensuring that students have courses that clearly relate to their lives and goals; and Relationships-seeing to it that kids have a number of adults who know them and can push them to achieve. All of these, he said, are easier to promote in smaller high schools. Currently, the Gates Foundation is supporting more than fifteen hundred new or redesigned high schools across the country.

In discussing his rationale for focusing on high schools, Gates said, “We have decided that high schools are a crucial intervention point for equality because that’s where children’s paths diverge-some go on to lives of accomplishment and privilege; others to lives of frustration, joblessness, and jail.”

At the conclusion of the summit, the NGA and six partner foundations announced a $42 million initiative to ensure the summit’s call to overhaul the nation’s high school system translates into action. The six foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Wallace Foundation, The Prudential Foundation and the State Farm Foundation, committed $23 million to help states create and implement policy strategies designed to improve graduation and college-readiness rates. The remaining $19 million will come from matching funds from state grant recipients.

An Action Agenda for Improving America’s High Schools” is available at$file/actionagenda2005.pdf.

Secretary Spellings’s speech is available at

Bill Gates’s speech is available at

More information on the 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools is available at


Thirteen-State Coalition Formed to Improve High Schools


At the close of the 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools, Achieve, Inc., announced that a group of thirteen states have formed a new coalition to improve high schools. The states, which together educate more than a third of all U.S. students, agreed to significantly raise the rigor of their high school standards, assessments, and curricula to better align them with the demands of postsecondary education and work.

“For the first time, a group of states will reshape an American institution that has far outlasted its effectiveness,” said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, co-chair of Achieve. “More than five million American students each year-35 percent of public school students nationwide-will be expected to meet higher requirements under this landmark initiative.”

In agreeing to join the American Diploma Project (ADP) Network, the states-Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas-will develop a specific plan and timetable for addressing ADP Network objectives, while Achieve will report regularly on each state’s progress. The ADP Network is managed by Achieve, Inc., and carries forward the agenda of the ADP, which last year identified the skills that students need in order to succeed after high school.

More information is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.