NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education System Needs an Overhaul

October 23, 2001

While more than 70 percent of today's U.S. high school graduates go on to postsecondary education, only half of those who enroll on a four-year campus leave with a degree. According to the final report of the National Commission on the High School Senior Year -- a panel of educators and officials headed by Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton -- this high failure rate is due to inadequate preparation for postsecondary education or careers following high school.

  • While 90 percent of high school freshmen say they expect to complete college, only about two in five (44 percent) take a college preparatory curriculum.
  • Less than half of teachers (38 percent) say that helping all students prepare for college is very important.
  • And high schools (and parents and students) wrongly continue to act as though the weaker "general studies" curriculum provides sufficient preparation for college or work.

In fact, says the Commission, the education system is disjointed and its goals are too diffuse:

  • Exams taken at one level are largely ignored at the next.
  • College admissions tests (the SAT and ACT) are not aligned with new higher state and national standards, and colleges frequently admit students without the necessary background because high school graduation requirements are not tied to college admissions standards.
  • Duplication leads high schools to offer college-level Advanced Placement courses to a select few students, while colleges offer basic secondary-level remedial courses -- now needed by about 30 percent of new college students.
  • At the same time, the colleges that prepare the next generation of teachers have not kept up with the reforms sweeping K-12 schools.

The Commission recommends the creation of a seamless "P-16" (preschool to the college senior year) system in which standards, curriculum and assessment efforts are aligned and integrated. It says schools must make a "college-preparatory-like" curriculum the default learning track for all, and require parental permission before assigning high school students to lower level courses.

Source: "Raising Our Sights: No High School Senior Left Behind," National Commission on the High School Senior Year, October 2001.


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