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"To put it bluntly, our high school system is not serving some kids well. We are facing an unrecognized educational crisis in this country,"

“Unless improvements are made, American students will not be competitive with students in other countries, dooming future generations to less opportunity, greater levels of poverty, and further disparities in health status. Our children and grandchildren’s world will be even more complex, inter-related, and global. Can anyone earnestly say that our current education system is preparing them for this world? In the future, I fear only the well-educated will have the necessary skills, insight, and imagination to succeed. Those who are unprepared will sit on the sidelines, confronting poverty, dead-end jobs, and hopelessness. They will find little choice and much despair. The well-educated will live in a world of their own choosing; the poorly educated will wander in the shadows.”

Secretary Rod Paige
U.S. Department of Education
October 8, 2003


“To put it bluntly, our high school system is not serving some kids well. We are facing an unrecognized educational crisis in this country,” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said to a crowd of 700 delegates at the National High School Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. Given such strong words, the remedies offered were disappointing.

“By the time they reach 12th-grade, only one in six African Americans and one in five Hispanics can read proficiently,” the Secretary noted. However, he made no mention of the need for an adolescent literacy program for the six million students in middle and high school who read below a basic level-a recommendation that the Alliance has put forward and asked the Administration to embrace. Such a program could ensure that every high-needs middle and high school will have a literacy specialist who trains teachers across subject areas to improve the reading and writing skills of all students. In Every Child a Graduate, the Alliance reported that, according to recent research, those who receive intensive, focused literacy instruction and tutoring graduate from high school and attend college in significantly greater numbers than those who do not receive such attention.

Paige also noted that America’s students consistently under perform compared to their counterparts throughout the world. He stressed that the country needs to expect more from its high schools and pointed to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that found that American students read, write, and do math at rates lower than students in Asia and Europe. The report also found that high school graduation rates in America fall below the OECD average. “The on-time graduation rates at our inner city high schools are shockingly low,” Paige said. “At about half of the high schools in our 35 largest cities, less than half of ninth-graders graduate four years later. We can no longer close our eyes and ignore the children who are being left behind.”

Nevertheless, the Administration has not proposed a graduation plan for every student or academic counselors who could help students develop a plan that meets their needs and identifies courses, additional learning opportunities (e.g., tutoring), and necessary health and social services. Nor has the Administration proposed expanding the Smaller Learning Communities program, which would allow innovative principals to implement positive changes, including innovative programs, alternative teaching methods, and individualized attention for students. All these research-based recommendations were made in Every Child a Graduate, released in September 2002.

Paige Announces New Leadership Initiative for High Schools

The one-day leadership summit was an opportunity for state teams of educators and policymakers and researchers to hear about local innovative and effective strategies for transforming high schools. At the conference, Paige announced a new leadership initiative to encourage states and local school districts to improve their high schools. The initiative, Preparing America’s Future, has four themes:

  • Setting high expectations and accountability for results
  • Creating options and engaging students
  • Fostering world quality teaching and school leadership; and
  • Making smooth transition into postsecondary education, training, and careers.

He emphasized that we have spent too much time on structural reforms like block scheduling. “Too often,” he said, “structural reforms minimize or overlook the need for improving the quality of instruction. We must pay attention to factors like time on task, opportunities to practice, providing quality feedback, and using meaningful assessments of student achievement.”

He noted the success of two small federal programs currently underway to help high school students graduate prepared for college, the State Scholars Initiative and the Advanced Placement program. He announced $11 million in 22 new grants through the Advanced Placement Incentives program to increase the number of low-income students who take advanced courses. He also announced $2.4 million in grants to expand the State Scholars Initiative-a business-led effort to better prepare students for success after high school.

However, when discussing an expanded role for the federal government in helping school districts improve their high schools, Paige seemed to prefer a hands-off approach: “For the leaders assembled today, I want to encourage you in your work today to develop a bold new vision for shaping the way high schools operate. This Department is committed to providing you the best information and support.”

Paige acknowledged that No Child Left Behind offers little in the way of high school reform, but stopped short of calling for legislation aimed at high schools. “We know that the foundation for academic success begins early in life, which helps explain the focus of the No Child Left Behindlaw. However, we also know that much of the gains made early in school are lost in high school.”

Learn more about Secretary Paige’s High School Initiative and access materials from the conference, including a complete transcript at:

Read the complete text of Secretary Paige’s speech at:

Secretaries of Education, Labor Announce New Internet Tools To Ease Transition from High School to College, Career

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced a new Web site that will help guide parents and students through the college application and financial aid process. The site, Student Aid on the Web, offers everything from assessing a student’s career interests to helping apply for financial aid. The site is available at:

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao also appeared at the high school summit and announced the Career Voyages Web site. The site is a collaborative effort of the Education and Labor Departments and will help parents and young people learn about high-growth industries and occupations, as well as the skills needed for these jobs. The Career Voyages site is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.