The American high school, once an austere brick building serving a few hundred children,mostly white boys, who studied reading, writing, and arithmetic, has grown into a sprawling mall complex for thousands of boys and girls, of various ethnic groups, offering something—from algebra to band and basketball—for everyone.
Is such a school right for education in 2005? Last spring, in a much-quoted speech, Bill Gates, whose education philanthropy is the subject of another story in this issue, told the National Governors Association that America’s high schools were “obsolete.” Even when they’re “working exactly as designed,” he said, they “cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.”
How did we get here? Is it where we should be? In the following pages Jeffrey Mirel traces the roots of the modern high school, Jay Greene documents the sad facts of the current crisis, and Chester Finn assesses the proposed remedies, while providing guidance for would-be reformers.