Starting in the fall, Harford and Frederick school districts will offer students more challenging high school coursework that sets higher graduation standards for those who want to participate.
Maryland is one of five states chosen to take part in the State Scholars Initiative, introduced last summer by President Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
The initiative encourages high school students to enroll in an overall course of study that requires more science, social studies and foreign language classes than are typically required to graduate. The goal is to better prepare students for college and the workplace.
Representatives from the State Department of Education, along with the Maryland Business Roundtable and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s office, are scheduled to announce the new program this morning.
Harford and Frederick are the two pilot sites for the initiative. Organizers want to expand the program next year to other state systems, including Baltimore City.
The pilot program will be partly funded by a $300,000 grant for staff development and materials, but officials from the Maryland Business Roundtable - a coalition of leading state employers - are hoping to solicit money and other assistance from the business community to provide incentives that will entice students to try the tougher track.
In Texas, the first state to try the program, incentives for low-income students who graduated under the more rigorous standards included four-year scholarships. Successful students also received preferential treatment from prospective participating employers, including being able to skip certain portions of companies' interview processes.
"We must show students that hard work today translates into increased opportunities in the future," said Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, chairman of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.
To be considered for the State Scholars Initiative, states had to demonstrate that high school reform is a priority for educators, employers and the state's political leaders.
Maryland is rolling out a more challenging state testing program for high school students as part of an effort to improve academic achievement.
"This is just another big spotlight on high school reform," said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland business group. "As we raise these high school standards, it's aligned with what the state is trying to do."