Many High Schools Offer Poor Curriculum, Report Says

Published April 6, 2012

Many high schools do not offer sufficiently rigorous curricula to graduate college- or career-ready students, a new report by Center for Public Education concludes.

The report notes 3,000 high schools offer no classes in Algebra II, a subject tested on the SAT and important for college preparation. This is approximately one in nine high schools in the nation, serving approximately 500,000 students.

“[The report] confirms and echoes what other reports have been saying,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. The nation needs better high school curricula to regenerate the economy, he said, as approximately 25 percent of high schoolers currently drop out and 50 percent of those who graduate are unready for college or career.

“We have 3 million unfilled jobs that people could be filling but don’t have the skill level necessary,” Wise said.  

Strategies for Improvement
The study presented four “popular” strategies to prepare students for college-level work: Advanced Placement courses, dual enrollment, early college programs, and higher-level math.

To improve high school curricula, the authors recommend increasing access to quality education, equity between schools, more funding, advocacy for better curricula, and data collection.

“Clearly, there needs to be more advanced learning for all students,” Wise said. “We have to change the education system. We have to use technology in ways that we haven’t used it before.”

Instead of simply doing more of the same, Wise said, schools must use technology to increase educational rigor.

“Digital learning erases the line between high tech or high teach. To prepare all students for the global economy, the nation must have both,” Wise said. “Digital learning gives teachers more opportunities to personalize education, utilize data and content more efficiently, and be more innovative in their teaching to ensure all students meet today’s challenging standards.”

Solving Equity Problems
The report highlights equal access as a key problem: many students cannot get better classes because the public school they are required to attend does not offer them.

“[Online] learning can be very beneficial in bridging gaps because you don’t have to worry about geographic boundaries,” said Matthew Wicks, a vice president for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. “If school district X doesn’t offer AP courses, a student can take it online.”

Wise said teacher distribution is another problem, noting there are only 88 certified physics teachers for Alabama’s 440 high schools.

Harnessing Technology
The study’s suggestions would require costly increases in personnel. Wicks said online learning is more efficient than hiring AP or foreign language teachers for every school, since many schools will “never have enough demand to justify these courses.”

Schools must harness technology wisely instead of simply layering it on the existing system, which will only increase costs, he said.  

“This is the time for every school district to power up, not power down,” he said. 

Image by Daryl Sawatzky.