The system of education that exists today was created a century ago. During the early 1900s, a growing industrial economy required scores of skilled laborers and trades people, and comparatively few managers and professionals. The comprehensive high school was designed to fill that demand by sorting and educating students based on their perceived abilities and whether they were bound for college or work. At the time, the comprehensive high school was a major factor contributing to America’s emergence as an industrial power.
Times have changed. Now driven by a competitive global economy, and information- and technology-based industries, employers require workers with higher skills and more education than just a few decades ago. Now, all—not just some—students need a rigorous education to prepare them for college, work and citizenship. Once an innovative model for universal education, the comprehensive high school is now obsolete; it inadequately prepares students for their future and is a threat to the long-term viability of the American economy.
To ensure success for our young people and bolster the nation’s economic potential, what should schools, communities, and state and local leaders focus on?
- Student achievement. National measures of reading and mathematics indicate a decline in student achievement.
- Graduation rates. Appalling numbers of young people drop out of high school each year and enter the workforce with insufficient skills and credentials.
- College readiness. According to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, nationwide only 1 in 3 high school students is ready for college.
- Equity. The national achievement gap between African American and Latino students and their white peers results in significantly higher dropout rates and lower college attendance for students of color.
- Economic future. Jobs requiring postsecondary education—either an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or higher—are the fastest areas of economic growth, tying the economic health of the nation to a well-educated workforce.