NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public High Schools Are Not Doing Their Jobs

September 6, 2012

With the start of the new academic year, results from last year's ACT college admissions tests have been made public, and the results are disturbing, say James R. Harrigan, a fellow of the Institute for Political Economy at Utah State University, and Antony Davies, associate professor of economics at Duquesne University and an affiliated senior scholar at the Mercatus Center.

The incoming freshman class is woefully unprepared for college.

  • The class of 2016, as a group, failed all four subjects the test assesses: English, math, reading and science.
  • According to ACT, only 25 percent of students are proficient in all four subjects.
  • Sixty percent came up short in two of the four subject areas, while more than 25 percent failed to demonstrate proficiency in any subject at all.

What students earn with a high school diploma reflects what they learn in achieving it, and they have been learning and earning considerably less as the years have gone by. The data demonstrates this beyond question.

  • From 1987 to 2007, average income rose for college-educated workers, but fell for everyone else.
  • In 1987 and adjusted for inflation, a college graduate could expect to earn $1.35 million more than a high school graduate over the course of a career.
  • By 2007, a college graduate could expect to earn $1.7 million more than a high school graduate.
  • From 1987 to 2007 the inflation-adjusted value of a college degree rose by $345,000.
  • But of that $345,000, only $37,000 was due to the college degree becoming more valuable.
  • The remaining $308,000 was due to the high school diploma becoming less valuable.
  • Putting this in stark terms, 90 percent of the increase in the value of a college degree is not due to our colleges' becoming ever more stellar, but due to our high schools' becoming ever more abysmal.

The way to stop the trend is to allow parents to hold our public schools accountable. They can do this the same way that they hold their cellular providers or grocery stores or car dealerships accountable. If public schools can't educate their children, parents should be free to take their children -- and their tax dollars -- to schools that can.

Source: James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies, "Public High Schools Are Not Doing Their Jobs," U.S. News & World Report, August 28, 2012.


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