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PRIMARY SOURCES: America’s Teachers Say Students Are Leaving High School Unprepared for the Challenges Ahead

“Since teachers are the frontline of delivering education in the classroom, the reform movement will not succeed without their active support. Primary Sources is a step in ensuring that teachers’ voices are a part of this important conversation.”

Approximately 93 percent of teachers agree that a high school diploma is not enough for today’s students to succeed, according to a widespread survey commissioned by Scholastic, Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Unfortunately, the report, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools also finds that about 90 percent of teachers believe that not all of their students are leaving high school prepared for the rigors of a two- or four-year college. The report provides a snapshot of teacher opinion on the state of K–12 American education and covers a variety of issues ranging from academic standards to performance pay to use of technology.

“Teachers are a critical part of preparing our children for the future, and their voices are an essential addition to the national debate on education,” said Margery Mayer, executive vice president and president at Scholastic Education. “Since teachers are the frontline of delivering education in the classroom, the reform movement will not succeed without their active support. Primary Sources is a step in ensuring that teachers’ voices are a part of this important conversation.”

According to the report, teachers identified five solutions for ensuring that all students achieve at their highest level. Recommendations include establishing clear standards that are common across states, employing multiple measures to evaluate student performance, using tailored instruction to reach individual students’ skills and interests, accurately measuring teacher performance and providing nonmonetary rewards, and bridging the gap between school and home to raise student achievement.

The majority of teachers surveyed supported standards on one level or another. Ninety-five percent said that establishing “clearer academic standards” would make at least a moderate impact on improving achievement and 90 percent said “the establishment of common standards across all states” would have the same effect.

Although teachers value standardized tests as a method to improve student achievement, they also voiced their opinion that tests were only one part of the equation. According to the report, teachers believe that the most important evaluation measures are ongoing assessments during class coupled with class participation and performance on class assignments. Most educators then use this performance data to inform their instruction, start conversations about student outcomes with parents or collaborating teachers, and monitor student and classroom progress.

When surveyed on innovation, 94 percent of teachers said that learning experiences that provide students with twenty-first-century skills are “absolutely essential” (54 percent) or “very important” (40 percent) in impacting student achievement. To provide these types of relevant experiences, teachers said they strive to meet students “where they are” on both a personal interest and ability level in addition to incorporating technology in their curriculum. Customized learning experiences also play an important role in engaging students; nearly 95 percent of teachers said differentiated assignments help to engage students in learning and 90 percent said that teaching resources to assist differentiated instruction are either “absolutely essential” (53 percent) or “very important” (37 percent).

As for factors outside of the classroom that could affect student success, teachers agreed that lack of student motivation (34 percent) and lack of encouragement from family and friends (27 percent) were likely reasons that some students would leave high school unprepared for a two- or four-year college. High school teachers (49 percent) were more likely than elementary school teachers (25 percent) to view motivating students as a challenge and identified it as the single most likely reason that students are unprepared for higher education.

When asked about the most important factors affecting teacher retention, nearly all teachers cited nonmonetary rewards such as supportive leadership, time to collaborate with other teachers, and access to high-quality curriculum and resources. Pay tied to teacher performance ranked the lowest on the list, with 36 percent of teachers saying it is “not important at all” and only 25 percent saying it is “absolutely essential” or “very important.”

Primary Sources finds that teachers perceive students to be increasingly less prepared for grade-level work as they enter the higher grades; only 12 percent of high school teachers agreed that students begin the school year prepared for on-grade-level work compared to only 18 percent of elementary school teachers.

A comparison of teachers in low-income areas versus high-income areas revealed a noticeable difference in opinion regarding a students’ ability to perform well in school and beyond. Teachers in low-income schools are about one-third as likely as teachers in high-income schools to rate student achievement as “excellent.” They are also half as likely to say more than 75 percent of their students could leave high school ready for college success.

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