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HOUSE COMMITTEE HOLDS THIRD HIGH SCHOOL REFORM HEARING: Private-Sector Witnesses Lament Lack of Adequately Prepared Graduates

"The private sector is uniquely qualified to help address the challenges of high school reform, because businesses recognize the importance of a strong secondary education in preparing students for future success," said Representative Mike Castle (R-DE)

During the third in a series of hearings on high school reform, this one held June 28, the House Subcommittee on Education Reform turned its attention to the private sector and how it is working to help states and communities improve high school education.

“The private sector is uniquely qualified to help address the challenges of high school reform, because businesses recognize the importance of a strong secondary education in preparing students for future success,” said Representative Mike Castle (R-DE), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Education Reform. “That’s why so many in the business community have joined with states and local communities to encourage innovation and meaningful reforms that will strengthen high schools and better prepare students for the future.”

Bill Shore, director of U.S. Community Partnerships for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pharmaceuticals, testified about the ways companies are contributing to K-12 education. “Companies rank education as the number one social issue that they should help to address,” he said. Citing a study by the Council for Corporate and School Partnerships, Shore said companies contribute more to K-12 education than to all corporate public policy, advocacy, and lobbying combined.

Shore admitted that despite these investments, GSK and many other companies continue to experience difficulties finding individuals who are adequately prepared for the workforce. “We have situations where in companies and community colleges and university systems high school graduates have to take remedial programs,” he said. “GSK is a high-tech company that relies on being able to hire the cream of the crop. [In order] to be able to compete globally, we have to hire people-we would love to be able to home-grow our talent-from some other places. We have to have top-notch high schools to be able to do that.”

Mike Watson, vice chairman of BellSouth Foundation, agreed with Shore’s analysis of the prospective American worker. “The bottom line: Workers are not ready for the modern workplace,” he said. “The world of technology requires strong mathematics and science skills, plus the abilities to read, write well, to think and reason, and to explain complex concepts.” Watson talked about BellSouth’s support for high school reform in the fields of education leadership, teacher quality, and e-learning.

“As a technology company, we recognize that technology plays an integral role in education and can have a significant impact on student achievement. The BellSouth Foundation will be launching a new strategy in September that we believe will be instrumental in improving high schools in the Southeast. Called the BellSouth Foundation e-Learning Initiative, this strategy is designed to bring engaging, rigorous, online instruction to students throughout our region-particularly low-income and minority students-to help address the growing achievement gap.”

Sarah Ravi Sterling, a program manager at Microsoft Corporation, testified about the challenges the country faces as it relates to the role of women in science and technology education. Noting that the number of women interested in computer science as a major has fallen 80 percent between 1998 and 2004, and 93 percent since its peak in 1982, Sterling said that the trend away from computing starts at the middle and high school levels.

To reverse this trend, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a coalition of more than forty corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits, was created to ensure that women are “fully represented in the influential world of IT and computing,” Sterling said. At the high school level, NCWIT is working to stimulate girls’ interest in IT and promote a positive, current image of technology workers and the kinds of innovative work women can do in computing. “Girls and women must play an important role in fostering new IT innovations if the U.S. is to remain competitive,” she said. “America needs the talent of all its citizens: our competitiveness, security, and ultimately the health of our democracy depends upon this.”

In her testimony, Dr. Phyllis Hudecki, executive director of the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition (OBEC), discussed ways that OBEC was involved with the State Scholars Initiative. State Scholars is a statewide program designed to better prepare high school students academically for college and employment by encouraging them to take more rigorous courses. As part of its involvement with the program, OBEC recruits local business leaders to make presentations to eighth graders urging them to take on more challenging coursework in high school. According to Hudecki, the program, begun in 2003, is already beginning to show positive results.

In addition, Hudecki said, OBEC partnered with Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry (D) and other education leaders to pass a landmark education reform bill, Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE), which was signed into law in June. Under the legislation, all high school students must take a college prep curriculum beginning in the 2006-07 school year unless their parents sign a statement opting out of such a curriculum. Other provisions include a requirement that high school students must pass four out of six end-of-instruction tests in order to receive a high school diploma beginning in 2008-09. The legislation also works to make the senior year more meaningful by encouraging students to take college courses, at the state’s expense.

As in the two previous hearings on high school reform, the role that should be played by the federal government in reforming high schools was unclear. However, witnesses once again asked the federal government to join the governors, foundations, nonprofits, and corporations that are actively working to resolve the crisis in America’s high schools.

Hudecki urged Congress, as part of its reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, to consider providing incentives for all fifty states to follow the lead of the eighteen states in the American Diploma Project that are working to close the expectations gap and restore value to the high school diploma. “Modest amounts of money can provide the impetus for the governors and business leaders to bring postsecondary and K-12 education leaders together to align high school standards, assessments, and curriculum with the demands of college and work,” she said.

Chairman Castle’s opening statement, witness testimony, and a video archive of the hearing are available at


Institute of Education Sciences Accepting Applications on High School Reform


The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, is now accepting applications for its research program on high school reform. Through the High School Reform initiative, IES will support research that identifies ways to improve high school education as measured by objective indicators such as higher test scores, higher graduation rates, and more successful transitions from high school into the world of work and postsecondary education.

“The program’s purpose is to support research on approaches, programs, and practices that enhance the potential of at-risk students to complete high school with the skills necessary for success in the workplace, college, or the military,” the application reads. “This new initiative will complement the Institute’s existing programs of research in improving teacher quality and academic achievement in reading/writing and mathematics and science, and in the finance and management of schools.”

Ultimately, the program hopes to provide an array of high school reform practices that have been proven effective at improving student outcomes. Interested parties must submit a letter of intent by September 12, 2005. Final applications are due no later than November 10, 2005.

More information, including the complete application, is available at


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