Is the high school curriculum tough enough? Education initiatives as broad as the Common Core State Standards, grant organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and legislative actions like ESEA reauthorization all raise the issue in some way. All of these initiatives agree that high schools should produce “college and career-ready graduates,” and that “a rigorous curriculum” is the way to do so.
Beyond that, the picture gets murky. What do those two phrases mean? How do we determine what makes a prepared high school graduate, and how do we know if the current high school curriculum produces them?
The following facts should raise some concerns:
- Almost two-fifths of high school graduates “are not adequately prepared” by their high school education for entry-level jobs or college-level courses, according to a survey of college instructors and employers (Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2005).
- Many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Data recently reported that 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a key subject encompassed by the SAT and other indicators of college readiness (OCR, 2011).
If this is the case, what kind of high school curriculum would produce prepared graduates? The research has focused on four popular strategies: AP courses, higher math courses, dual enrollment programs, and early college high schools. Most studies are correlative, and most simply measure graduates’ success in college. But it’s been well established that graduates entering good jobs need the same skills as graduates entering college, so the findings can be instructive when considering career-readiness, too. Read the Center for Public Education’s new report, “Is high school tough enough?” for some key lessons about these popular strategies. –Rebecca St. Andrie