Across the country, American high schools continue to generate headlines. Just two weeks ago, I highlighted comments made by,Bill Gates, as he lamented the “obsolete” and “outdated” state of our high schools. Concern over failing schools has spread far beyond the borders of the business community. President Bush has pledged a renewed focus on high schools in No Child Left Behind and multi-million dollar projects are currently underway in our own state to “reinvent” North Carolina high schools. Even the State Board of Education has climbed on the bandwagon with their evaluation of high school graduation standards.
Recently, my understanding of the critical importance of college preparedness hit close to home. In 2001, my daughter graduated from a Mecklenburg County public high school, finishing in the top 20 percent of her class. Equipped with confidence and a good academic record, she headed off to college with high hopes (hers and ours) of a productive (and time-limited) four-year collegiate experience. Yet, after needing remedial courses as a freshman, and changing her major twice, graduation within four years seemed like an unattainable goal. Fortunately, she is scheduled to graduate in December 2005, meaning that we (along with the taxpayers of North Carolina) can now breathe a collective sigh of relief. Statistics indicate that she is one of the lucky few: for every 100 ninth-graders in our country, a paltry 18 graduate from college on time.
This week, Charlotte Advocates of Education released What Matters Most: Student Postsecondary Success — a must-read report for taxpayers and policy-makers alike. This report, which focuses exclusively on Charlotte Mecklenburg (CMS) public school graduates, provides a telling snapshot of the lack of college readiness among high school seniors in our state. Of the 37 percent of CMS seniors entering one of 16 UNC system institutions, far too many students need remedial work. More than 15 percent of CMS students do not even return to college for a second year. And only 53.8 percent of CMS students graduate in five years. These statistics have far-reaching economic implications for both parents and taxpayers. North Carolina taxpayers contribute $8,032 annually for an undergraduate, or about $32,000 per four-year graduate. For students who drop out, this investment yields little benefit. And students who linger in the system, taking more than four years to finish, rack up additional expenses for taxpayers.
So, what to do? Not surprisingly, the K-12 education establishment blames failing schools for insufficient funding. Fortunately, this tired argument is finally losing credibility. A recent published opinion in Teacher Magazine reveals that the public is becoming less convinced that money is the problem, and is looking for other answers.
This spate of bad news about American high schools may seem to some like an unwelcome indictment of public education. But I believe an honest assessment of our educational ills must necessarily precede any kind of meaningful reform. Unfortunately, a shared recognition of public education’s failures is not enough. Until our political and legislative leaders embrace the concepts of competition and choice, infusing our education system with market-based reforms, the costs of failure — both economic and social — will continue to mount.
To learn more about market-based reforms, as well as the latest education news, visit the Alliance online at www.nceduationalliance.org. Check out the “Headlines” section of our home page, updated daily with articles from every major newspaper in the state. At the Alliance, we are committed to keeping you informed and empowered as we join together to improve education for the children of North Carolina.