High School Education
Public high schools in the U.S. are changing to meet current student needs. Employers estimated that almost 40 percent of recent high school graduates did not have the job skills and knowledge required for entry-level positions, and only 18 percent of the college instructors believe that most students entering college extremely well or very well prepared. The government report, A Nation at Risk, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 have affected the high school curriculum and core academic subject and course requirements. New innovations such as career clusters, adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and dual enrollment in college are changing high school curriculum organization.
Keywords Advanced Placement; Carl D. Perkins Vocational & Technical Education Act; Career Clusters; Core Academic Subjects; Dual Enrollment; High School Exit Exams; National Assessment of Educational Progress; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Placement Exams
The first form of public education began in the 1600s in the New England colonies. By the 1700's, the influx of people from different countries with different religions led to the rejection of church-sponsored views in education and the desire for private schooling, which became the norm (Thattai, n.d.). Before the 1800s, elementary and secondary education in the U.S. was locally or regionally organized, and nearly all schools ran solely on private funds ("History of Education," n.d.). Until the 1840s, education was available primarily to wealthy people (Thattai, n.d.). Massachusetts passed the first laws for free public education in 1852 ("History of Education," n.d.). By the end of the 1800s, “free, public education at the elementary level was available for all children. By 1918, all states had laws requiring children to at least attend elementary school” (Thattai, n.d., p. 5).
The first publicly supported secondary school in the United States was founded in 1635 in Boston, but by the late 1800s, secondary education was mainly achieved through personal tutoring or by confidential academies ("Public Education in the United States," n.d.; Thattai, n.d.). Public funding of secondary education rarely occurred, but in 1874, a court decided in Michigan that local property taxes could be used to support high schools ("Public Education in the United States,", n.d.). By the end of the 1900s, most states had laws requiring mandatory education to the age of 16 (Thattai, n.d.). In 1900, only about 10 percent of children age 14 to 17 were enrolled in high school, and most of them came from wealthy families. Between the years of 1900 and 2000, the amount of high school graduates rose from six percent to almost 88 percent ("Public Education in the United States," n.d.). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the high school dropout rate steadily declined from 1990 (12%) to 2011 (7%). However, across this period, Hispanic and African American students were more likely than White students to drop out, although the gap narrowed. In 1990, the dropout rate for Hispanic students was 32 percent, while in 2011 it was 14 percent; over the same period, for African American students, the dropout rate declined from 13% to 7%, and for White students from 9% to 5%.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled agreeingly in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that it was unconstitutional to withstand racial segregation in any public schooling system. The federal government's involvement in improving and financing public schools changed dramatically with the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. With these two acts, Congress confronted the idea of expanding educational opportunities for poor children and improving instruction in important subjects like math, science, and foreign languages (Thattai, n.d.).
Individual states are given authority over their own public education systems, and local districts watch over school administration but overlook the licensing requirement and federal and state laws, which supersede local authority. Most public schools rely on local property taxes to meet expenses. In 1940, local property taxes covered about 68 percent of expenses incurred by public schools, and individual states contributed approximately 30 percent of the expenses. By 1990, the percentages had evened out considerably with local districts and states contributing about 47 percent to public school expenses with the federal government contributing the balance. By the mid 1900s, most states began intervening and regulating local districts with consolidation. “In 1940 there were over 117,000 school districts in the country, but by 1990 there were just over 15,000 districts (Thattai, n.d., ¶ 6). By 2012, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, there were only 12,880 school districts in the United States. However, the Pew Report also notes that there can be great local resistance to school district consolidation, even if a state offers financial incentives for districts to merge, because small communities often see maintaining local schools as an important part of their identity.
Current Issues in High School Education
There have been many reports regarding the current issues faced by high schools, primarily the need for more rigorous content and more student support (Perkins-Gough, 2005). In 1983, the federal government published a report, A Nation at Risk, which indicated that the country's students were falling behind most industrialized countries and their test scores had been steadily declining. This led most states to focus on education reform that emphasized more frequent testing and more state-mandated curriculum requirements (Thattai, n.d.). From a student's point of view, one survey of 2003 and 2004 high school graduates found that only about 60 percent of them believed that their high school readied them sufficiently for the trials and challenges of college and/or work experience. Employers estimated that almost 40 percent of recent high school graduates did not have the appropriate skill-sets and knowledge necessary for entry-level jobs, and they estimated that about 45 percent of recent high school graduates were not prepared to advance beyond an entry-level position. Only 18 percent of the college instructors surveyed believed that most students entered college extremely well or very well prepared (Perkins-Gough, 2005). An ACT “report found that only 22 percent of the 1.2 million students who took the ACT in 2004 achieved scores that indicated they were ready for college-level work in biology, algebra, and English composition” (ACT, 2004, as cited in Perkins-Gough, 2005, ¶ 2).
International comparisons have also shown American high school students performing at levels far below students in other industrialized countries. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that American 15-year-olds scored below 27 other countries/education systems on mathematics, with only 9% of U.S. students performing at the highest level of proficiency and an average score of 481; by comparison, in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), the average score was 494 and 13 percent of students performed at the highest level of proficiency. In the school system scoring highest in mathematics, that in Shanghai, China, 55 percent of students performed at the highest level, and the average score was 580. American students also scored below many OECD countries in science and reading achievement.
There has been a movement to revamp high schools and change the curriculum, moving away from the traditional college preparation, vocational, general, and special education tracks to one in which all students are prepared to go on to college even if it is not in their plans for the future. The premise is that because the academic skills that are necessary for college are the same skills needed for the workplace. However, detractors feel that forcing all students into college preparation programs would waste the time of students who could be better served in an apprenticeship or vocational program. These detractors also point to rising college dropout rates as proof that this is probably already the case for many students (Viadero, 2001).
As it is, close to 70 percent of seniors graduating from high school go on to college shortly after graduating, but some research shows that almost half of those need to take at least one remedial course. The National Commission on Excellence in Education's 1983 report A Nation at Risk recommended raising high school course requirements. The commission recommended students take at least four courses of English; three courses of math, science, and social studies; and a year and a half of computer science. It also recommended that students planning to go to college should take two years of foreign languages. A Nation at Risk did have influence, as high school students began taking more core academic courses. One federal report stated that from 1982 to 1994, the percentage of students taking the recommended core courses went from 14 percent to more than 50 percent (Viadero, 2001).
Even with more high schools raising their core academic course requirements, many states have high failure rates on their high school exit exams. Additionally, even though 70 percent of high school students are enrolling in college upon graduation, the percentage of students who actually earn a bachelor's degree is about the same as it was in 1950. Also, the percentage of students graduating from high school has been dropping since 1993, although there is some discrepancy over the figure because more students are earning their high school credentials through alternative programs, such as home schooling and online high schools (Viadero, 2001).
State Level Changes
While there are still many states that need to work on high school reform, others have been actively implementing changes. Indiana had a strategy for bringing more rigor to their curriculum, aligning it with higher education and workplace expectations by bringing together business and college and university leaders to identify what skills students should know in order to be prepared for higher education or employment. The state developed more challenging classes in English, mathematics, science, and social studies...
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