With the start of another school year, I want to add a few thoughts on what high school should provide to three distinct groups who attend it.
Students, society, and employers are each being short-changed. First, let me mention a few outstanding issues with today’s system.
- Too many fine high school graduates go on to college without a grasp of the relationship between their future income, new personal responsibilities, and their student loan repayment. Student debt has exceeded 1 trillion dollars. Schools are not preparing even its college-bound students adequately in financial knowledge.
- Solid students, who are not interested in college, are bogged down by required classes for subjects that have no utility for their prospective careers., yet employers believe 40% high school graduates do not possess sufficient reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Schools are not giving their prime resources the grounding necessary for their future life.
- Some dropouts never master the demands and rewards of citizenship, leaving them adrift without a moral anchor. The students resistant to learning spend their days before they quit in classes of little relevance to the challenges they will face.
Public schools have three main tasks.
- Support and develop the full potential of each student.
- Teach students the rights and responsibilities of good citizenship.
- Provide society with graduates who can follow instructions on the job.
People may disagree over the scope of these tasks and the manner by which they should be accomplished, but the general intentions are clear.
Also, for ease of discussion let’s focus on three groups of high school students.
- Students who go through smoothly and afterward through college
- Students who earn a high school degree. Afterward they may go directly to work or get certifications, such as medical workers or apprenticeships.
- Students who dropout before high school graduation
At graduation students should have mastered all non-job specific work skills. They should understand their rights and their responsibilities as well as the approach to resolve conflicts with others. They should have a realistic grasp of their future opportunities and have started the proper steps to achieve that next step—whether search for an available job, go into an apprenticeship program, or apply to college.
Students and Job Opportunities
Figure 1, a chart of Students and Job Opportunities, categorizes the information that all students should be familiar with, is a combination of two separate studies. First, the education achieved by high school students, ten years after they were sophomores. The biggest surprise was the widely reported 20% dropout rate narrows to 3% after ten years.
The second source yields the job and salary offered columns. Surprisingly, more than a quarter of all jobs do not require a high school degree. Unsurprisingly, the wages are quite low. Twenty thousand dollars per year.
One takeaway from the chart is that 97% of all students realize the value of the high school degree ($35,000 annual starting salary versus $20,000 for dropouts). Unfortunately, it takes a number of years before some students grasp the significance of the facts bearing on their lives.
The missing job and salary values for Post High School certification is lamentable. These include skilled workers like carpenters, plumbers, electricians who progress through apprenticeships as well as medical personnel and others. These are known to be well-paying jobs with benefit to the employees and to society.
A few discrepancies like a third of students eventually earn a bachelor’s degree yet only 18% of jobs require the degree is curious. An explanation is that earning a degree enhances your value (and salary) when you are already employed in numerous occupations.
From the work skills goal of high school, there is a good amount of success, although employer sentiment that 40% of applying diploma holders are weak in reading or writing highlight the need for improvement.
The next post will discuss curriculum changes to boost fundamental work skills as well as improving managing one’s one financial situation and upgrading student’s understanding of their role, right, and responsibility in society.
Jobs available by Education Level. Although this source is from 2013, the general takeaways remain the same.
Government Study on Education Achievement. Wealth of good information in this longitudinal study.
Summary of Unemployment by Schooling. Another aspect of schooling 2016.