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KEEPING OUR EDGE: U.S. High Schools Don’t Prepare Students to Compete Internationally, Say Most Americans

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“For the sixth year in a row, Americans have given our nation’s schools a grade of ‘C’ and parents have given their children’s schools a ‘B’ and indicated that they believe the public education system is generally doing O.K.,” said ETS President Kurt Landgraf

Nearly three quarters of Americans believe that America’s public high schools are not adequately preparing students to compete for highly technical science and engineering jobs with their international peers, according to Keeping Our Edge: Americans Speak on Education and Competitiveness, the 6th annual poll by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). And nearly 60% feel that America’s public schools fail to provide students with the training and skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

“For the sixth year in a row, Americans have given our nation’s schools a grade of ‘C’ and parents have given their children’s schools a ‘B’ and indicated that they believe the public education system is generally doing O.K.,” said ETS President Kurt Landgraf. “But they also believe that in today’s competitive global economy, doing O.K. is not good enough, and they support improving math, science and technology learning and skills.”

Survey respondents believe that math and science are “vital” to America’s ability to maintain an edge in the global economy and to remain competitive with emerging economies in China, India, and Japan. In fact, more than 70% of Americans say it is “very important for students to take the most advanced math and science classes they are eligible to take every year of high school.”

When asked their opinion of high schools as a whole, only 11% of those surveyed think that students were “significantly challenged” in high school, compared to 37% who say that high school students were not challenged at all. In addition, over half of all respondents say that the best way to reform high schools is to “raise standards in high schools so a diploma means more, and [so that] students are not getting passed through the system without the skills they need for college or work.” When asked their opinion on high school dropouts, 73% of the American public say that public schools are “coming up short or falling behind” in their efforts to support struggling students and to prevent dropouts.

According to the survey, the American public “understands that America’s future success in the global economy rests upon improving our public education system….” In fact, 73% of respondents agree that America’s ability to compete 25 years from now will be negatively impacted if high schools do not change. The survey also finds that the American public is very receptive to reform proposals, “even when presented with the tradeoff of a significant increase in their own taxes.”

“Americans’ willingness to embrace such a variety of reforms is a sign that the public is willing to go further if its leaders are ready to go,” said poll co-author David Winston. “The public is demanding that our leaders at every level accomplish more and challenging them to do it quickly, before the United States loses its competitive advantage.”

The poll was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and the Winston Group from May 22 to June 2, 2006. More information on the poll, including complete survey results and a PowerPoint presentation, is available at http://www.ets.org/americansspeak.html.

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