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Leaders Call for Equity, Rigor in the American High School – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

$42 million initiative builds on high school summit, supports state-level efforts to raise graduation rates, prepare all students for success

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Marie Groark
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: 206.709.3400

WASHINGTON -- As the unprecedented National Education Summit on High Schools came to a close today, the National Governors Association (NGA) and six partner foundations announced a $42 million initiative to ensure the summit’s resounding call to overhaul the nation’s high school system translates into action. In a spirit of broad bi-partisan support, 45 governors joined educators and business leaders for the two-day summit to address the nation’s alarming dropout rates and the fact that most students leave high school without the skills necessary for success in college or the workplace.

The six foundations joining forces to support state efforts are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Wallace Foundation, The Prudential Foundation and the State Farm Foundation.

In the summit’s opening session, Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted the economic and social imperative of improving the nation’s “obsolete” high schools.

“Everyone who understands the importance of education; everyone who believes in equal opportunity; everyone who has been elected to uphold the obligations of public office should be ashamed that we are breaking our promise of a free education for millions of students,” Gates said in his speech.  

Low high school graduation rates and growing awareness of the convergence of skills necessary for college and the workplace have helped build national momentum high school reform. Nearly one-third of all high school students fail to graduate. Of those who do graduate, close to half will not have the knowledge or skills they need for success in college, according to a Manhattan Institute report released earlier this month. Only about half of African-American and Hispanic youth make it to graduation day and fewer than 20 percent are ready for college-level academics.

The six foundations committed $23 million to help states create and implement policy strategies designed to improve graduation and college-readiness rates. A portion of the funding requires a one-to-one match from state grant recipients, bringing the total to $42 million. Through a competitive grant process open to all states, the NGA Center for Best Practices will manage and award the grants. The public-private partnership begins to lay a foundation and gives states options for matching potential support with the different policies they want to pursue.

“This is an unprecedented collaboration between state government and the philanthropic community,” said NGA Chairman Virginia Governor Mark Warner. “This public-private partnership will lay the foundation for long-term systemic change.”

The summit’s action agenda outlined key state-level reforms aimed at preparing students for college and the workplace. They include aligning high school graduation requirements with college-readiness standards; helping low-performing schools and students; increasing the number of high-quality teachers and principals; collecting data to better measure progress; strengthening accountability for high schools and colleges; and integrating K-12 and postsecondary education. 

A broader partnership is being explored with the following foundations: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Bell South Foundation, Lumina Foundation for Education and GE Foundation.

The 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools is sponsored by NGA and Achieve, Inc. in partnership with the Business Roundtable, the James B. Hunt Institute and the Education Commission of the States.

“Every kid can graduate ready for college. Every kid should have the chance,” said Bill Gates in his speech. “Let’s redesign our schools to make it happen.”

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