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Americans on High Schools: “In Need of Improvement!”

Press Release:

Americans on High Schools: “In Need of Improvement!”

Alliance for Excellent Education Releases Findings of National Poll on High Schools and Hosts Discussion with Nationally Recognized Advocates and Educators

On Wednesday, August 24, 2005, the Alliance for Excellent Education released the findings of the first comprehensive survey of public opinion on high schools to be conducted since President Bush and many governors announced major initiatives earlier this year to improve the educational experience of and outcomes for America’s older students. View video from the event.

The findings are conclusive: the American public sees problems with high schools and they overwhelmingly want governors, members of Congress, and the President to pay more attention to them. In fact, for the first time, the public feels more urgency to improve high schools than elementary education.

Nationally, only 70 percent of students graduate from high school within four years of entering ninth grade, costing the nation billions a year in lost earnings. In many urban schools across the country, the percentage of kids who drop out is closer to 50 percent. Hispanic and African American children are at particularly high risk, but there are students in almost every secondary school in the country who read significantly below grade level and who are therefore more likely to leave school without a diploma than are their peers . “If this dismal situation is to change,” notes Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, “policymakers need to know that their constituents consider high school reform a pressing issue that must be dealt with now.”

Overwhelmingly, survey respondents agree that it is critical for the nation to have good public schools, and all demographic groups rank the need to improve high schools as the most important priority for reform in the kindergarten to college continuum. On question after question, respondents indicate that increasing the number of high school students who graduate prepared for college and good jobs is critical to maintaining a strong society and to assuring the competitive position of the U.S. in an increasingly global economy. African American respondents, in particular, indicate that the need for high school reform is urgent, with 94 percent calling it very or extremely urgent; 81 percent of whites and 82 percent of Hispanics agree with this assessment.

Other important findings show that strong majorities of the public believe that:

  • Investing in elementary school improvement, while important, does not inevitably lead to success in the high school years.
  • The nation’s literacy rate is abysmal, and improving it is the key to improving other areas of student achievement.
  • Too many students are dropping out before attaining a high school diploma, and they and the nation suffer as a result.
  • It is not too late to help poorly performing students when they reach their high school years.
  • Leadership is important, but respondents know little about the initiatives launched by the President or governors to improve high schools.
  • Receiving a high school diploma does not necessarily mean that graduates are prepared for the challenges of college or workplace training.
  • Investing in high school improvement is so important that they would be willing to pay more in taxes to support effective reform efforts.

“This poll is important,” Wise said, “because it clearly states that for the first time, Americans believe that high schools should be a top priority for our federal and state officials, as well as for business and community leaders. The poll also shows that simply improving grade school is not enough; the commitment must be made and maintained at every level.”

Lake Snell Perry Mermin/Decision Research conducted the national poll in mid-August 2005. It asked 1,200 individuals from across the nation what they know about the state of America’s high schools, what should be done to improve schools, and who should be held responsible for the reforms needed to make all secondary schools effective centers of teaching and learning. To ensure that the views of all segments of the population were adequately represented, the poll over-sampled African-Americans and Hispanics.

At the release event on August 24, Alysia Snell reviewed the poll’s findings in detail. She and Governor Wise were joined by Janet Murguia (president of the National Council of La Raza), Dr. John Jackson (national director of education for the NAACP), and Dr. Mel Riddile (principal of JEB Stuart High School in Virginia, where President Bush announced his high school initiative earlier this year). These respondents discussed the poll’s findings and the importance of public support for reform efforts designed to change policies at the national, state, and local levels, with the goal of redesigning American high schools to meet the needs of the 21st century. Alysia Snell’s PowerPoint is available now.

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education, and success in life. It is funded by the Leeds Family, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Daniels Fund, as well as by other concerned foundations and individuals.

For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit:

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