NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Standards Need Raising

March 4, 2004

The high school diploma may be nothing more than a broken promise to graduates who march out into the world with false confidence, having met every expectation demanded of them, only to find themselves woefully underprepared, according to a report from the American Diploma Project, which is sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and others.

Researchers spent two years consulting with faculty members, front-line managers and high school educators in order to gauge the levels of knowledge and skill that a high-school graduate actually needs to possess. According to the report:

  • Reformers have tended to ignore the standards that really matter, namely those that students will encounter when they get to college, or when they apply for jobs.
  • At present, even the toughest 12th-grade exit exams are geared not to college-level curriculum but to 8th or 9th-grade content.
  • And while students may be required to pass something called "Algebra II," or to take four years of "English," states do little to ensure that those courses actually teach what the course titles imply.

Where Americans once viewed the diploma as a common national currency, its value has been so inflated that employers and postsecondary institutions all but ignore it in their hiring and admissions decisions today. How can we ensure that a high school degree signifies more to employers than a certificate of attendance and more to graduates than a broken promise?

First, states must take steps to raise expectations and to improve the quality of teaching and the tools teachers can marshal to help students fulfill expectations. Just as importantly, business, higher education and the federal government need to create far clearer rewards for earning a diploma, say observers.

Source: Craig R. Barrett, "Education SOS," Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2004; based upon, "Creating a High School Diploma That Counts," American Diploma Project, February 29, 2004.

For WSJ text (subscription required),,SB107836256188646109,00.html


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