NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 21, 2005

The governors of 13 states have pledged an overhaul of the American high school system that would require all students to take a college preparatory curriculum and to meet more rigorous standards for graduation. However, observers strongly disagree with the governors' radical reform plan, believing it will increase the dropout rate, not reduce it.

A recent report released by the National Association of Scholars, an independent group of educators, outlines proposals that make more sense than those endorsed by the governors:

  • Students entering ninth grade will be given a choice between a subject-centered curriculum or a technical, career-oriented course of study.
  • All students will be required to complete a core curriculum of four years of English and at least three years of mathematics, science and history.
  • Teachers of core subjects must have at least an undergraduate major in the main subject they teach and teachers of technical subjects must have either solid academic training or work experience in their fields.

Additionally, NAS recommends that schools have a longer school day and longer school year. The group also emphasized that schools should have a minimum of 500 students since research has shown that larger schools provide better staff depth and stability and have a broader range of music, art, drama, debate and sports offerings. Students graduating from either program would be well educated and prepared for higher education, says the NAS.

Observers say the governors should scrutinize with great care the popular reforms of the day before imposing them on their states' schools. Furthermore, governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their states' junior high schools. High school graduation rates are sure to rise if incoming freshman start high school with the basic skills needed to read, write and solve mathematics problems.

Source: Diane Ravitch, "Failing the Wrong Grades," New York Times, March 15, 2005; and "An Open Letter: Recommendations for Reforming the American High School," National Association of Scholars, February 2005.

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