College & Workforce Readiness

How Well Are Schools Preparing Students? Advanced Academics and World Languages, in 4 Charts

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 19, 2024 | Corrected: March 20, 2024 2 min read
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Corrected: An earlier version of this story incorrectly combined principals’ responses to their confidence in school preparation. Fewer than half of high school principals believe their school does a “very good” or “excellent” job of preparing students for higher education.

The vast majority of high schools have moved to align their courses with college admission requirements, but fewer than half of high school principals think their schools do a very good or excellent job of preparing their students for higher education, according to new federal data.

Small schools in particular struggle to offer the kind of advanced coursework students need to be competitive for college, and world language offerings, which are often recommended for college applicants, remain limited in most schools.

The data come from the January School Pulse Panel, a nationally representative bimonthly survey of more than 1,600 K-12 principals. The National Center for Education Statistics has conducted the survey since the start of the pandemic to track school practices.

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Principals’ low ratings of their students’ college preparedness notwithstanding, a majority think their students will graduate ready for the workforce. More than 8 in 10 high school leaders reported that they have aligned their graduation requirements to meet local higher education admission requirements and offer at least some career and technical education.

The proliferation of career and technical coursework is a positive, said Chris Chapman, NCES associate commissioner. “Advanced coursework is not the only way that public schools or any kind of schools can prepare students for life beyond high school,” he said.

Seventy-three percent of principals reported their schools offer advanced coursework, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or dual-credit courses with a college or university. While low-income schools were less likely to offer courses than higher-income schools, neither was significantly different from schools overall, and student participation was often low.

However, only half of leaders of high schools with fewer than 300 students offered advanced courses—while nearly all schools with 500 or more students did so.

World language offerings are limited

While most high schools now offer at least one world language, only a fifth of elementary schools do so. Research suggests early bilingual education can improve long-term student fluency in both English and the second language.

Spanish remains the most common world language offered in high schools, NCES found, accounting for more language programs than all others combined.

Principals also reported that Latin is taught in more schools than modern Arabic, Japanese, or Italian.

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