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THE CONDITION OF EDUCATION: New Report Finds “Promise” but Need for Improvement in High Schools

In 2003, 44 percent of high school dropouts were neither enrolled in school nor working, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education. This compares to 9 percent of those who had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. While The Condition of Education 2004, released by the National Center for Education Statistics, notes that “trends in the condition of American education continue to show promise and challenge,” statistics on reading proficiency, high school dropouts, and out-of-field teachers make it evident that the challenges should not be underestimated. Much work is still needed if every student is to be given an opportunity for future success.

In its analysis of dropouts, the report divides students into three categories-those from low-income families, middle-income families, and high-income families. During the twelve months ending in October 2001, high school students who lived in low-income families dropped out of school at six times the rate of their peers from high-income families. One out of ten students from low-income families dropped out of high school, while only one in fifty students from high-income families left school. (“Low-income” families are defined as the bottom 20 percent of family income; “high-income” is the top 20 percent. In 2001, the Current Population Survey defined “high-income” families as those with a family income of $75,100 or more.)

The difference in future earnings for a high school dropout versus a college graduate is staggering. In 2002, the average salary for a male high school dropout was $22,903, compared to $48,955 for a college graduate. Over the course of a lifetime, the difference can amount to a million-dollar differential in earnings.

According to a recent study by Northeastern University’s Center for Market Studies, only 42 to 43 percent of people between the ages of sixteen and nineteen can expect to find a job this summer. Four years ago, 52 percent of teenagers were able to find a job. For “out of school” youth, such as dropouts and high school graduates without plans for college, the situation is also difficult. The study estimates that 5.7 million youths were both out of school and out of work in 2003, an increase of 16 percent since 2000.

The Condition of Education 2004 also found that out-of-field teachers were more likely to be teaching in high-poverty schools.

  • At the high school level, 12 percent of students in high-poverty schools had an out-of-field English teacher, compared to 4 percent of students in low-poverty schools.
  • The same was true in science (16 percent to 5 percent) and mathematics (14 percent to 7 percent).
  • At the middle school level, many more teachers were teaching out-of-field (23 percent in math, 19 percent in English, and 17 percent in science). As a result, both low-poverty and high-poverty middle schools saw more than their fair share of out-of-field teachers.

The report examined the role that guidance counselors play in high schools and found that counselors in smaller schools were more likely to spend time preparing students for college, rather than making sure their high school grades were sufficient. Of the counselors in small schools (those with fewer than 400 students), 30 percent said that their primary emphasis was on helping students plan and prepare for college, compared to only 14 percent in schools with 2,000 or more students. On the other hand, 72 percent of counselors in these large schools reported that their primary emphasis was on helping students with their academic achievement in high school.

Even if a student receives his diploma, a lackluster performance in high school can have a dramatic impact on his college persistence. Given what the report found on out-of-field teachers and a lack of time for college planning, it should not be surprising to learn that 61 percent of students who enrolled in a two-year college between 1992 and 2002 had to take at least one remedial course. At four-year colleges, one in five students completed a remedial course. In total, 28 percent of entering freshman enrolled in at least one remedial course.

Students who enroll in remedial courses in college are less likely to obtain a degree or certificate, according to the report, with a need for remedial reading acting as the most serious barrier to degree completion. Among minority students, the problem is especially troubling, as 24.1 percent of African-American students and 20.3 percent of Hispanic students required remediation in reading, compared to only 7 percent of white students.

The complete report is available at http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004077.

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