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What Comes Before Community College? High School

Yesterday's White House Summit on Community Colleges certainly generated a lot of conversation, and leveraged some whopping commitments to improving outcomes for those students. (See the work of my colleague Caralee Adams at the College Bound blog for more on this.)

President Barack Obama's administration has, as you well know, placed a big emphasis on boosting college completion rates. A worthy goal, without dispute. And yet I have heard some in the high school improvement arena worry that in zeroing in too much on college completion, we risk losing our focus on the tough work needed to make high schools work better (and thus boost students' chances of success in college).

I'm aware of the response: high school improvement will take shape as part of the work on the now-familiar tenets of the administration's approach to K-12 improvement: effective teaching, good standards and assessments, good data systems, turning around low-performing schools. As broad and powerful as those areas may be, there hasn't been an immense—or immensely publicized—focus on the distinctive work of high school reform.

So in that spirit, it was nice to see these things this week:

• The Department of Education awards $100 million in grants for high school improvement work, some of which come through its $50 million High School Graduation Initiative;

• Edutopia, the online education magazine of the George Lucas Foundation, is running a very good series of stories on merging career tech with college prep;

• Jobs For the Future takes a look at state policies that can improve high school graduation rates.

Even before the good vibes from the community college summit fade, I'll make a plug for keeping an intense eye on the attention our high schools sorely need in order to do better by our students.

It's worth noting, as our Alyson Klein has done in Politics K-12, that a Senate panel is proposing doubling the high school initiative's funding to $100 million in fiscal year 2011. We don't know what the House has in mind, since they're keeping their plans secret for the moment.

But even as heavyweight policy folks talked about improving community college outcomes yesterday, high school reforms that could help with that—such as increasing rigor and smoothing the transition to higher ed—didn't even make the radar, Caralee noted in concluding her coverage of the summit yesterday.


President Barack Obama hugs Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, during the White House Summit on Community Colleges.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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