Moderating the first panel on the topic "Secondary Education: A Road Map for the Future," was Andy Rotherham, co-founder and co-director of Education Sector. Rotherham posed the first question to Mike Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., asking what is working and what isn't in the high school reform realm. Cohen said there is growing clarity about the mission of high schools and a growing consensus that everyone needs a meaningful high school diploma. The concern he raised is the lag time between this growing consensus and developing the capacity to change the current system. Turning to Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, Rotherham asked what challenges have been ignored to date. Hess spoke about the institutional structure and nature of public school systems that is hard to change or to overhaul. He referred to a human capital challenge that requires the re-tooling of the teaching workforce to meet labor force needs in the future. The current system simply will not attract the needed talent. Rotherham also asked the panelists what they think the next administration needs to do to address the crisis in America's high schools. Among the many suggestions offered were the removal of barriers between K-12 and post-secondary education; making high school curriculum more relevant to the workplace; providing incentives for states to develop high-quality, common assessments; establishing a blue-ribbon panel to identify good providers to work with high schools on strategic and innovative reforms; prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay teacher salaries, instead investing in more effective reforms; and the scaling back of the micromanagement inherent in the No Child Left Behind Act.
The event's second panel was "Business in the Classroom: Can Private/Public Partnerships Build Better Students?" Brian Kelly, U.S. News & World Report editor, served as moderator and asked whether the increased role of business in education has undermined local school board control. Ann Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, said no, citing the benefits of increased high school student attendance and lowered dropout rates in schools with a strong business presence. According to Bryant, schools partnering with local businesses results in more relevant curriculum and experiences for students.
The final keynote speaker of the day was former Gov. Bob Wise (D-W.Va.), president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, who said America cannot afford to perpetuate the model of heavy investment in the early grades and in post-secondary education, neglecting middle and high school.