College & Workforce Readiness

Report: High Schools Must Demand More

By Vaishali Honawar — January 04, 2005 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

States desperately need to raise the bar on high school graduation requirements to better prepare students for college and the workforce, a report says, contending that a wide gap exists between graduating students’ skills and the challenges of the postsecondary world.

“The Expectations Gap - A 50-State Review of High School Graduation Requirements” is available from Achieve, Inc., along with an executive summary. ()

In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, students can earn a high school diploma without acquiring the knowledge and skills needed for higher education and jobs, according to “The Expectations Gap—A 50-State Review of High School Graduation Requirements.” Achieve, a Washington-based group formed by governors and business leaders that advocates strong academic standards, released the report Dec. 21.

At least one expert blamed the conclusion partly on states’ refusal to focus on high school reform. “So far, most of the reform energy and resources have been poured into elementary schools under the misguided idea that if we get students on a good start, high schools can fix themselves,” said Kati Haycock, the executive director of Education Trust, a Washington-based group that seeks to improve academic opportunity.

The Achieve report recommends a rigorous diet of four years of grade-level mathematics and English for high school students. It says that should include Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2, data analysis and statistics, as well as literature, writing, reasoning, logic, and communications skills.

The authors reviewed high school course requirements in all the states and the District of Columbia. They found that only five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia—require students to take four years of math. Only six states—Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia—require four years of grade-level English.

In the past two decades, states haven’t made significant efforts to boost high school course requirements, said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education under President Clinton. “But it has become very clear in the time since that students who graduate from high school need to have a common set of knowledge and skills needed in the workplace and for college,” he said.

Acknowledging that the job won’t be easy, he urged state leaders to work with postsecondary officials and employers to define the learning required for graduates to succeed after high school, and without a need for remedial study.

The report recommends that states take a hard look at the core content of required high school courses to ensure that educators have a common understanding of what students need to learn.

Set Up to Fail?

States also should encourage all students, particularly those who are low-performing, to pursue accelerated options for earning postsecondary credit in high school. Those options could include Advanced Placement courses or early-college high schools, which allow students to earn two years of college credits while earning a high school diploma. (“Gates Foundation Expands Support of ‘Early College’ High Schools,” and “Study: AP Classes Alone Don’t Aid College Work,” both in this issue).

Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve and a senior editor of the study, said states would benefit from monitoring the progress of individual students from kindergarten through college to collect data that could then be used to strengthen high school course offerings.

“There should be a data system to track how students do once they graduate and go to college—how many students are required to take remedial courses, and how many are successful in earning a degree,” he said.

The American Diploma Project, established by Achieve, the Education Trust, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation last year, found that states and employers each year spend millions of dollars on remedial courses to cover what students should already have learned in high school. As many as 28 percent of college freshmen are placed in remedial courses, and roughly half of all college students do not graduate at all, according to American Diploma Project data.

Mr. Gandal noted concerns that raising high school graduation requirements could hurt students and increase dropout rates. But the real disservice, he said, is to hand students diplomas that set them up for failure in later life.

“It is a lot more fair to give them rigorous standards in high schools to ensure they succeed later on,” he said.

The report adds that employers say that most high school graduates are inadequately prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive economy. It cites a 2002 study in which more than 60 percent of employers reported that recent graduates had poor math skills, and 75 percent pointed to poor grammar and writing skills.

Poor Work Skills

Nancy Hoffman, the vice president of transitions for the Boston-based group Jobs for the Future, which works to improve job opportunities for young people, said many studies show employers are dissatisfied with the skills of the young people they interview and thus do not hire them.

“Many young people end up in what we call dead-end ‘McJobs,’ where only limited reading, writing, math, and critical-thinking skills are needed,” she said.

Achieve’s report also says that the absence of a rigorous high school curriculum hurts minority students and those from low-income families the most.

Taking a rigorous high school curriculum that includes math at least through Algebra 2, the report says, cuts in half the gap in college-completion rates between African-American and Latino students, at the lower end of the achievement scale, and white students, at the upper end. But, it points out, black and Hispanic youngsters are significantly less likely than Asian and white students to take rigorous college- and work-preparatory curricula.

The report also holds out hope for change: Arkansas, Indiana, and Texas, it says, will soon make a rigorous college- and work-prep curriculum the norm.

A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as Report: High Schools Must Demand More

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness The Botched FAFSA Rollout Leaves Students in Limbo
Some students wonder if their college dreams will survive.
6 min read
Ashnaelle Bijoux poses on campus, Saturday, April 27, 2024, at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn. Bijoux, a senior at NFA, has been unable to complete the FAFSA form due to a glitch with the form. Without the form and the financial aid it brings, Bijoux won't be able to pursue her goal of going to Southern Connecticut State University to become a therapist.
Ashnaelle Bijoux poses on campus, Saturday, April 27, 2024, at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn. Bijoux, a senior at NFA, has been unable to complete the FAFSA form due to a glitch with the form. Without the form and the financial aid it brings, Bijoux won't be able to pursue her goal of going to Southern Connecticut State University to become a therapist.
Jessica Hill/AP
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says New Data Paint Bleak Picture of Students' Post High School Outcomes
Students are taking much longer to complete credentials after high school than programs plan.
2 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness This East Coast District Brought a Hollywood-Quality Experience to Its Students
A unique collaboration between a Virginia school district and two television actors allows students to gain real-life filmmaking experience.
6 min read
Bethel High School films a production of Fear the Fog at Fort Monroe on June 21, 2023.
Students from Bethel High School in Hampton, Va., film "Fear the Fog"<i> </i>at Virginia's Fort Monroe on June 21, 2023. Students wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film through a partnership between their district, Hampton City Schools, and two television actors that's designed to give them applied, entertainment industry experience.
Courtesy of Hampton City Schools
College & Workforce Readiness A FAFSA Calculation Error Could Delay College Aid Applications—Again
It's the latest blunder to upend the "Better FAFSA," as it was branded by the Education Department.
2 min read
Jesus Noyola, a sophomore attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, poses for a portrait in the Folsom Library on Feb. 13, 2024, in Troy, N.Y. A later-than-expected rollout of a revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, that schools use to compute financial aid, is resulting in students and their parents putting off college decisions. Noyola said he hasn’t been able to submit his FAFSA because of an error in the parent portion of the application. “It’s disappointing and so stressful since all these issues are taking forever to be resolved,” said Noyola, who receives grants and work-study to fund his education.
Jesus Noyola, a sophomore at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, stands in the university's library on Feb. 13, 2024, in Troy, N.Y. He's one of thousands of existing and incoming college students affected by a problem-plagued rollout of the revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, that schools use to compute financial aid. A series of delays and errors is resulting in students and their parents putting off college decisions.
Hans Pennink/AP