Are High Schools Doing Their Job? Not All, Says New Report

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Are High Schools Doing Their Job? Not All, Says New Report
A new report by the Center for Public Education found that some high schools are providing a rigorous enough curriculum to prepare students for college, while others are not. What is the definition of “rigorous”? We’ll examine that question and report on study results.
A new report from the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education found that high schools vary greatly in their ability to prepare students for life after high school. At the core of this study appears to be a very important term that requires precise definition: rigorous curriculum. We’ll take a look at what a “rigorous curriculum” looks like and whether high schools across the country are rising to the task of offering this type of curriculum to their students.

Rigorous Curriculum Produces College and Career Readiness

According to the National School Board Association, a “rigorous curriculum” is required to produce “college and career-ready graduates,” but beyond that statement, the processes involved in reaching that goal become somewhat murky. How do schools know if the curriculum presented to students is “rigorous” enough to ensure success? The report does take the time to define “rigorous curriculum” accurately to make it easier to assess high schools and their ability to prepare students for the future.

First, the website offers a definition of rigorous curriculum that was provided by the National High School Alliance, which reads, “An educational experience that leads to a common outcome – that all students are well prepared for post-secondary education, career and civic life.” The definition goes on to state that rigor is characterized by a “steadfast focus” on increasing achievement through high-level coursework and aligning high school requirements with expectations for both college and career paths.
Rigor and Common Core Curriculum
To help high schools understand what rigor means and apply it to their own instruction, the National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practices coordinated the Common Core State Standards initiative. These standards “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn” from grades K-12. These standards also align with college and career expectations, as included in the definition from the National High School Alliance. At this time, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the common core standards.
According to the website for the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the common core standards contain the following important characteristics:
  • The standards are aligned with college and work expectations
  • They are clear, concise, and easy to understand
  • The standards include rigorous content
  • They build upon the strengths of current state standards
  • They prepare students to compete in a global workforce
  • The standards are evidence-based
The decision to move to common core standards and a rigorous curriculum is an important one for high schools, since academic rigor has been shown to have a direct impact on the success of a student after high school. So are U.S. high schools offering the rigorous curriculum required for life success? Not all, according to this report.
Is High School Tough Enough?
The report, titled, “Is High School Tough Enough?” found that many schools are not adequately preparing students for life beyond senior year. According to, the report found that nearly two-fifths of all high school graduates “are not adequately prepared” for college or an entry-level job. This figure was determined through a survey of college professors and employers.
In addition to this disturbing statistic, the study found that many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous curriculum, and numerous studies show that high school students begin college courses with significant academic needs. Many students must take remedial courses in college to prepare them for the harder college classes that lie ahead.
There are many reasons for the problems colleges are seeing with incoming students. High schools are not consistent in their offering of rigorous curriculum, since it is not available to all students, and specific ingredients of a rigorous curriculum are often lacking in certain schools. For example, some schools may not offer much in the way of dual-enrollment courses, while others may be light on Advanced Placement offerings. Some schools may require math courses through Algebra II, while others do not. In fact, reported that more than 3,000 high schools in this country fail to have classes in Algebra II at the time this report was published. 
What Can be Done?
While the report paints some dismal numbers, there is good news in the data as well. The report recommends ways to boost high school curriculum, according to, through more advanced placement courses, dual-credit courses, International Baccalaureate programs, higher level math classes and early college instruction. The report also recommends that high schools work with various colleges to track student success and identify what is required to meet those goals.
“Are high schools rigorous enough?” Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education, asked “The answer is, ‘It depends’. High schools are doing a great job of increasing rigor and making students successful. But it is uneven. We’re not suggesting any of the suggestions are the only answers, but they are some suggestions high schools can take to make their students better prepared for postsecondary education.”
Reports like this one from the Center for Public Education may be the first step in aligning students at all high schools in the U.S. for success in whatever they choose after graduation.
“In today’s education landscape, many are beginning to re-think the high school experience,” Barth told “From Advanced Placement courses to dual-enrollment, early college high schools, and even high-level math; the aim is to expose students to concepts, curricula and ideas that will help them succeed in college or lead to a productive career. This emphasis is reflected in many education policy trends, including an increasing ‘PreK-16’ perspective as well as the Common Core State Standards, which most U.S. states have adopted in order to produce college-ready and career-ready high school graduates.”

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