Next Up, High Schools?

For years, education reform has focused on prekindergarten, elementary, and middle school.

Now America's governors are turning their attention to high schools, where only 71 percent of students graduate, and only 18 of every 100 ninth-graders will go on to finish a two- or four-year college on time.

That dropout picture is one of the worst in the industrialized world. With the Labor Department forecasting that two-thirds of new jobs will require some postsecondary education, this spells serious trouble for America's economic competitiveness - and for individual lives.

Showing smarts, the governors aren't waiting for Washington to act. President Bush is proposing that Congress extend to high school the No Child Left Behind law, which emphasizes accountability and yearly tests in the early grades. But lawmakers, receiving an earful from states about NCLB's inflexibility and underfunding, are resisting.

Reflecting the spirit of NCLB, though, the National Association of Governors wants to raise the standards of high school education. On Sunday, 13 governors announced an effort to hold schools accountable for graduating students who can succeed in college and the workplace. They aim to toughen curricula and testing.

Interestingly, they're involving outsiders. Six philanthropies, chief among them the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are putting up $23 million to help the states. The governors also want input from colleges. This outreach makes sense, given that colleges and businesses are the end users, so to speak.

Whether the governors will be more successful than the NCLB law is an open question. A disparate group, they'll have to pull together if they want to create national impact.

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