How Far We’ve Come
2009 findings by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, creators of the “Cities in Crisis” report, show the median income for an adult who does not graduate high school and works in one of the nation’s largest metropolitan regions is just $14,000 annually, significantly lower than the $24,000 earned by those with diplomas in the same areas. The center’s analyses further showed that earning a high school diploma raises an individual’s annual income potential by about 71 percent on average.
More than 25 years ago, a disheartening revelation about America’s education system swept the country in the form of “An Open Letter to the American People.” The prominent 1983 report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, clamored that the educational system was failing our students and jeopardizing the country’s future.
At that time the commission made official recommendations for transforming high school curricula to better prepare graduating seniors for continuing into higher education or successfully entering the workforce. Those recommendations included more English, math, science, social studies and foreign language credits as requirements for earning a high school diploma.
Since then, several million American students have been born, started school and already left the nation’s classrooms to embark on their adulthood. How effective were we in preparing them compared to their parents? The answer is definitively better. Regardless of their public, private or parochial designations, and urban, suburban or rural locations, high schools nationwide systematically have raised the bar.
The U.S. educational system is asking more from its students, and those same students want more from their schools. However, it’s not realistic for all schools to offer extensive science, such as physics, or specialty courses in foreign languages. And despite the increased diversity of subjects offered, alarming numbers of students are still falling behind or losing interest, and record numbers are dropping out.
Students Divided by Success
In 2009, the Gallup Student Poll began measuring American student sentiment in grades five through 12 on the basis of “hope, engagement and well-being” in relation to their education. The nationwide survey intends to track results for the next 10 years. Initial findings, released in May, showed that half of the more than 71,000 students polled across 18 states are not “hopeful” as defined by Gallup researchers, with at least one-third of them saying they feel “stuck,” meaning they’re struggling or suffering, and the remainder responding that they are “discouraged.”
The grade levels showed little variance in their responses, and when it came to foreseeing success in high school, the vast majority of students (95 percent) said they believe they will graduate.
But the reality is a harsh contrast. According to the “Cities in Crisis” study, first published by the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education Research Center in 2008, fewer than 75 percent of students actually will receive a high school diploma in the coming years.
In the 2009 update of that report, 16 of the nation’s 50 largest cities were named as having graduation rates lower than 50 percent in their main school districts. In the Southeast, Atlanta was identified as having a 44 percent graduation rate. Nationwide, research indicates that nearly one in three of today’s high school students fails to graduate — equivalent to 1.2 million students dropping out each year. That’s an average of 7,000 American students lost each day of every school year.