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Rethinking High School: The Next Frontier for State Policymakers


"For over two decades, commissions, reformers and researchers have called attention to the problems of the American high school. The litany of shortcomings is long and well documented. On almost every statistical measure and for large groups of students, our high schools are not making the grade. At a time when the needs of our youth and the demands of society, the workplace, and life have changed dramatically, high schools have not responded. The gap in achievement, graduation, and college attendance between white high school students and minorities is growing. Colleges and employers complain that high school graduates are ill prepared for the work required. As the Education Trust has observed, "the data suggests an object at rest in a world that is rapidly rushing by."1 The American high school experience is sorely in need of rethinking and redesign.


While some states are considering or have taken actions that could support the rethinking of high school, only a few have begun to think systematically about a new vision for high school or how state policies and practice could support a new approach to the education of adolescents.

This paper looks at four states -- California,Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont -- that have examined the condition of their high schools, found them wanting and are attempting to do something about it. California began its reform efforts in the 1980s and made a major investment in K-12 systemic reform in the early 1990s. The other three states began their work on high schools in the mid 1990s. In all four, the current focus on high schools comes in response to the development of state standards and assessments, and a concern that high schools, in particular, are unlikely to meet the standards without help."