As the school year wraps up, millions of proud parents across our country are celebrating the success of their newly minted high school graduates. Thanks to a strong push to eliminate “dropout factories” and help all students get through high school, America has recently experienced its highest graduation rate ever: 80 percent. We should be proud of the hard work parents, teachers, and, most importantly, students have made to make this accomplishment. But being proud doesn’t mean taking a break.
While we celebrate, we must also remember that while the graduation rate is important, what that graduation rate means is just as significant. It would be great to have a graduation rate of 100 percent, but it would be meaningless if there were no rigor behind those diplomas.
Yet in the real world, diplomas have meant little for too long. Too many students have spent their time in school, squeaked by, and earned a diplomas, only to then head to college where they were placed in remedial courses, earning no credit, yet costing time and money—money that was already spent by the K-12 system. This is a systematic failure of American education. According to the ACT, more than three-fourths of incoming college freshmen “were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.”
Even international rankings show our struggles. As American students stagnate, our international competitors leave us in the dust. Once a world leader, there are now 26 countries that outperform American students in math and 20 countries in science.
But education is more than international rankings. As we struggle to gain ground economically from the recession, one thing has become clear: education is an economic lifesaver. The single largest unemployment gap between education levels is between those with a high school diploma and those without.
Knowing that a strong education is the single most powerful tool to fight poverty and is the only way moving forward to have a strong economy, the vast majority of states recently have raised their academic standards by adopting and implementing the Common Core State Standards. These educational standards for English and math set clear and high goals for students, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. More will be demanded of students as they progress through their education. And students will be expected to have a higher level of comprehension than they currently do. While academic standards are but one component of an education system, they are an important one, laying out the foundational goals of students.
Education reform is about improving the entire education system so every kid can succeed. Reaching a milestone for the number of students who graduate is important and notable. But we need to look deeper. We need to continue making strides in eradicating “dropout factories” and raising graduation rates, yet at the same time, we must work to eliminate achievement gaps and prepare each child to become successful Americans after he or she leaves high school.