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Are High Schools Failing Students?

Apr 29, 2011

As the academic year winds down, it is not only students who are subject to assessment. A recent Associated Press-Viacom survey has given young adults the opportunity to evaluate how well high schools prepare students for college and work. Many feel that schools aren't making the grade.

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By Douglas Fehlen

A Startling Survey

A high school diploma is meant to represent a standardized benchmark of achievement that will allow young people to thrive in college and work environments. But according to an Associated Press-Viacom survey, many students don't feel ready for the challenges of life after high school. The poll, completed in partnership with Stanford University, features responses from about 1,100 individuals ages 18-24.

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In what may be the best news to emerge from this survey, some young adults feel that high schools are doing a great job: 42% of survey respondents said that they are very satisfied with their education experience. The outlook gets less rosy after that. Another 39% of young adults said they are only somewhat satisfied with the education they received. And 19% of individuals polled said they are not at all satisfied with the quality of their high school education.

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Breaking Down the Numbers

So what is it that high schools aren't doing to prepare students for the future? Those who participated in the survey indicated there are multiple areas in which schools must improve. Many of those polled suggested that high schools could do a better job of helping students to find the right college or trade school. And respondents thought high school educators could be more effective in helping students identify funding sources for higher ed.

Also to emerge from the survey: Young adults wished they'd had more guidance in picking a career area. This wish hinted at a bigger point seen in the results. Schools just aren't doing all they can to equip students with the real-world abilities that are so important after students leave the classroom. Survey participants wanted high schools to help students get work experience and provide more opportunities to develop skills with technologies used in different disciplines.

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Higher Marks for Colleges

One area in which a majority of young adults felt that high schools succeeded: Preparing students for higher education. And those who graduate and move on to a college or trade school typically are happy with the time they spend there. Roughly 6 in 10 young adults from the survey say they are very happy with their higher ed experiences.

Why did postsecondary schools perform so much better in the poll? A look inside the numbers reveals that students in these settings had access to a lot of the opportunities they found lacking in high schools. Young adults said higher education institutions were more effective in helping them choose a discipline, get internships, utilize new technologies and prepare them for jobs.

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