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Mark Warner Talks About the National Governors' Association's Plans to Deal with High School Education

Ohanian Comment: Note the mention of industrial certification in the same breadth as high school education. Marc Tucker's school-to-work plan is reborn. Shall we bring out his 18-page letter to Hillary Clinton written right after the 1992 election?

NPR labels he National Governors' Association bipartison. The label should be pro-corporate.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

This weekend, the nation's governors gather in Washington for an education summit, and for the first time, they will focus on high schools. The governors want a broad overhaul that would reduce dropout rates and better prepare students for college. President Bush has proposed expanding the No Child Left Behind initiative into high schools. Many state officials complain that federal testing and mandates stifle local innovation and reform. Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a Democrat who's chairman of the bipartisan National Governors' Association, says the group's plans do not clash with the president's.

Governor MARK WARNER (Democrat, Virginia; Chair, National Governors' Association): Well, I think we're setting off with the same goal, that we've got to raise high school performance, that it's not acceptable in the 21st century to have literally 30 percent of entering ninth-graders not graduate from high school, and then those students who do graduate from high school, so many of them not be prepared to go on to college and finish college, or those going into the work force, we have to recognize that a high school diploma is not going to be enough. They're going to have to get some additional training, industry certification.

Where we, as governors, in a bipartisan way, may differ from the president is that the No Child Left Behind legislation has had the right goals, it has put way too much bureaucratic control from Washington, it has not provided the funding that was originally promised. We got a lot of work to do, but it's important that we bring the question of high school reform to the national attention.

NORRIS: Well, given that states, like Virginia, have felt hamstrung by this, do you have concerns about the president's plan to bring the No Child Left Behind reforms to high school?

Gov. WARNER: Well, we're anxious to see what the president really has in mind. He has made some statements about extending accountability into high school, and I don't think you'd find many governors that would be opposed to that. The United States, at this point, is 17th, 17th in the world in terms of high school graduation rates and the rigor of its curriculum vs. many of our industrial neighbors around the world who we're competing with.

NORRIS: Well, you know, Governor, that's interesting that you mention that, because many of those countries that outperform us--Singapore, Japan, Germany--operate under an entirely different system. The US, in some ways, is trying to achieve something that other countries have not even endeavored to do, which is to bring all students up to a minimum standard based on a college preparatory curriculum. In other countries, they recognize that some students may not go to college, and they provide a very solid education for those students. These schools don't use the same kind of one-size-fits-all approach that is so common in American schools.

Gov. WARNER: Well, I do think we have to acknowledge that not every kid ought to be going to a four-year college, that we need to put more focus on career and technical education, what we used to call, when I was a kid, vocational education. That's why in Virginia, for example, we have laid out this--what we call our pathway to industry certification, where we're saying to that student who's probably not going to go on to college, `Hey, work with us. Go ahead and, you know, stay at it in your senior year, pass our Standards of Learning exams, graduate, and we'll work with you even if that requires for you to take a couple courses at a community college, and we, the state, will pick put the cost of those additional courses,' because I can, again, show the most conservative legislator around, you add 5 to $8,000 in earning power to that young person, you turn him into an immediately productive citizen at 18 or 19 years old as opposed to simply falling into that pool of folks who their opportunities are pretty much limited to those diminishing number of low-skill jobs. So we do need to put more emphasis on those students who are going to go straight into the work force.

NORRIS: One last question, Governor. Our listeners could be forgiven if they're under the impression that America's schools have been under some state of reform for the past three decades. There are all kinds of summits and reports and promises made. Under your leadership, how will you make sure that these reforms become reality, that they're not just on the historical heap of good intentions?

Gov. WARNER: Amen! You know, we don't need another study that sits on the shelf. That's why this summit this weekend is going to lay out, not only the long-term goals, but some of the short-term accomplishable quick whims for governors, so that we can move this critical issue to the forefront of the national agenda.

NORRIS: Thanks so much for being with us.

Gov. WARNER: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Mark Warner is governor of Virginia, and he's chairman of the National Governors' Association.

— All Things Considered
National Public Radio


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