(Tribune News Service) -- The White House has gathered hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private financing that will be channeled into projects to redesign America's high schools.
That news was announced last month at the first-ever White House summit on "next-generation high schools." The daylong summit was packed with high-flying ideas from policymakers, teachers, students, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists about how high schools could be remade to be more tech-savvy, hands-on, career- and college-focused, and just plain more interesting and exciting for students.
The financial commitments coincided with the release of a new study showing a 27 percent decline in high school dropouts between 2008 and 2012, from 1 million students to 750,000.
But summit leaders noted that because high schools still fail to graduate 19 percent of students, and fail to engage far more, a fundamental reworking of secondary school is necessary.
"We're not just asking what federal agencies and the administration can do. We're asking, what can we collectively do across the public and private sectors?" Kumar Garg, a senior adviser in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told attendees.
Dozens of advocacy and research groups, and the federal government, stepped up to announce pledges of action or money at the summit. One of the presentations that captured the spirit of the day—and sparked the biggest round of applause—came from a college student, Dawnya Johnson, who described her difficult journey through a childhood in foster care and public school in Baltimore. Then she discovered a nonprofit in her hometown called Intersection, which teaches leadership skills through community projects. She worked through that group to help pass the Maryland Dream Act, which lets undocumented students qualify for in-state college tuition.
"The ideal high school reinforces the idea that young people are not the problem but the solution to the major issues facing our schools, cities, and our country," said Johnson, who attends Goucher College in Baltimore. "Engagement doesn't start when a student turns 18. Engagement, youth voice, self- and community-advocacy start when young people are given the tools they need to make change in their communities."
Highlights of the commitments announced at the summit were:
Thirteen companies that belong to the group Change the Equation have promised to donate more than 100,000 volunteer hours to bring their employees' STEM expertise into schools.
Most of the priorities reflected in the pledges are ones that President Barack Obama has been advocating for several years, such as project-based learning, a heavier emphasis on STEM education, and better opportunities for college credit in high school.
©2015 Education Week (Bethesda, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.