In a keynote speech hardwired to be provocative, Bill Gates told the nation's governors that "America's high schools are obsolete."
Some data points: The US has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Only 68 out of every 100 ninth-graders graduate from high school on time, and most need extensive remediation after that. Only 28 of the original ninth-graders make it to their sophomore year in college. "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow," said the Microsoft chairman, who is hiring about half of his new talent overseas.
While President Bush's proposal to expand his signature No Child Left Behind law to the nation's high schools has all but flunked before arrival on Capitol Hill, many of the nation's governors are claiming the mantle of high school reform as their own.
Proposals at this weekend's national education summit include a rigorous college-prep curriculum for all students, more opportunities to earn college credits or industry certification while still in high school, and statewide goals for retention and graduation rates, including at two- and four-year colleges.
For the last quarter century, most of the national reform effort has focused on the pre-K-8 years. Experts and policymakers assumed that if the nation could get all students reading by third grade, the achievement gap between races and classes - and, increasingly, between the performance of US students and those in many other industrialized nations - could be bridged.
While younger students did show improvement, that didn't carry into high school years. "The attention to high school is long overdue, but I don't think there will be additional federal money for it," says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. "The governors will have to go back to their states and change high schools on their own."