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December 15, 2004 Extra Credit
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December 15, 2004

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Improving America’s High Schools Part I: The Challenge

Today’s youths face enormous challenges: a world where most jobs require higher levels of reading, communication, math, and problem-solving skills than ever before.

As our young people prepare to become workers and citizens, schools must prepare them for the new expectations of our economy and society. Today, all students need to acquire both academic knowledge and technical skills, and yet, too many are not receiving this type of high-quality education and development. Here are some facts demonstrating the need for high school reform:

  • "Every year about a million young people who started high school with their peers don’t graduate from high school at the same time as their peers." (High School Graduation Rates in the United States, Jay P. Green, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, September 2003)
  • According to U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 11 percent of young adults ages 16-24 are out of school and lack any high school credential (including the GED). Students from poor families are considerably more likely to leave high school than students from families with high incomes.
  • According to a 2002 Public Agenda report entitled "Reality Check," seventy-three percent of employers rate the writing skills of recent high school graduates as fair or poor, while 63 percent express dissatisfaction with graduates’ math skills.
  • In 2000, the math skills of 83 percent of 12th-grade students were below the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). When one disaggregates the data by race and ethnicity, the crisis appears even more urgent: the math skills of 97 percent of African-American students and 96 percent of Hispanics were below proficient. While the average math scores of white, African-American, and Hispanic fourth- and eighth-graders increased between 1990 and 2000, among 12th-graders, only white students scored significantly higher in 2000 than they did in 1990 (NAEP, 2000).
  • In 2000, 82 percent of 12th-grade students performed below the proficient level on the NAEP science assessment (NAEP, 2000).

More information regarding high schools and what is being done to improve them is available on the U.S. Department of Education’s Preparing America’s Future website at: www.ed.gov/highschool.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 12/16/2004