Are High Schools Failing Their Students?
Does earning a diploma guarantee that a high school graduate is ready for work and college? It should, for very practical reasons. Entrance requirements for colleges have increased. Employers expect more. Students must be able to communicate effectively, think critically, analyze and interpret data, and evaluate a variety of materials. Sixty-seven percent of new jobs in the market today require some postsecondary education (Achieve Inc., 2006).
Yet despite these demands, many high school graduates are inadequately prepared to continue their education or to enter the workforce. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), at least 28 percent of students entering four-year public colleges in the fall of 2000 were required to take remedial courses when they started, especially in mathematics and language arts, as did 42 percent of those enrolled in two-year public colleges (NCES, 2004). Employers also have noted that many recent high school graduates do not possess the basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills they need to function on the job; and providing remedial training to address this problem costs employers millions of dollars each year (The American Diploma Project [ADP], 2004).
Growing concern about the academic proficiency of high school graduates has placed high school reform at the forefront of the education policy agenda. Critics have begun to question the degree of academic rigor in our nation’s high schools, and many states and school districts are looking for ways to address this issue. This month’s newsletter explores the issue of academic rigor and highlights current efforts to challenge and support high school students.
Rigorous Curriculum for All
It is no secret that a challenging curriculum has a positive effect on student performance after high school. A study released by the U.S. Department of Education (Adelman, 1999), for example, found that “the academic intensity and quality” of a student’s course of study was a far more powerful predictor of bachelor’s degree attainment than class rank, grade point average, or test scores. And this impact is “far more pronounced” for African-American and Latino students than for any other group. A rigorous curriculum also predicts greater skill in the workforce and greater wage-earning potential. An extensive study conducted by ETS found that 84 percent of highly paid professionals and 61 percent of “well-paid, white-collar” professionals had taken Algebra II or higher level mathematics courses while only 30 percent of low-to-moderately skilled and low-paid workers had done so (ADP, 2004). These findings make a strong case for high schools nationwide to provide all students—not just those enrolled in “college prep”—with a challenging academic program.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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