In our last article, we discussed the serious challenge we face with our current system of high school education. While each high school is a unique reflection of its community and resources, the bottom line is we are failing to adequately prepare the vast majority of our young people to meet the challenges of a 21st-century global knowledge and innovation economy.

While we might think that “my child is doing pretty well” or “my child’s high school is a pretty good school,” the overwhelming evidence suggests that most American young people are falling behind their international counterparts. It is also generally recognized by experts that our traditional system and assumptions about high school education are outdated and obsolete. What are some of these assumptions?

Assumption: Most of our young people do not need an education beyond high school.

Reality: For the foreseeable future, at least 80 percent of emerging jobs that young people will step into will require post-high school education and/or training.

Unfortunately, while we like to idealize about every child having unlimited economic opportunity in our country, that opportunity is directly linked to talent development and quality of education. In the 21st century, our high schools will have to prepare all students with proficiency in core academic competencies (i.e. math, science, technology, reading comprehension, speaking and writing).

In addition to academic competencies, success in this new century will require critical and analytical thinking skills, complex problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork, service orientation and work ethic (i.e. customer service, personal responsibility, attendance, timeliness, etc.). It will also have to prepare them to effectively transition to higher education and training. While more than 80 percent of new jobs will require post-high school education, as a country, we are only graduating about 70 percent of our students. In Illinois, only about 50 to 60 percent of our high school students are meeting basic academic competencies.

Assumption: The United States has the best system of education in the world. Our students will always fare well against those of other countries.

Reality: While it is generally recognized that the U.S. has the best system of higher education in the world, in international rankings, our high school students lag students of other countries, especially in the critical areas of math and science achievement.

A number of factors contribute to this reality. First, our system of high school education was created in the late nineteenth century. It served us well for about a century, and during that time, educational achievement continued to improve. However, according to David Brooks, by 1970, “America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl. Between 1975 and 1990, educational attainments stagnated completely.”

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, in their book The Race between Education and Technology, conclude that high school graduation rates peaked in the U.S. in the late 1960s at about 80 percent. Since then, they have declined to about 70 percent today. Contributing factors include outmoded public funding mechanisms for education, inefficient jurisdictions and governance structures, inadequate teacher training, antiquated curriculum models, low expectations, lack of student preparation, and diminished parental involvement. iBi