Dr. Terry Holliday, Superintendent
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Is High School Graduation Enough?
Recently, the high schools in ISS celebrated a milestone in the lives of students and families. Over 1200 students graduated from high school. During the 20th century, a high school graduate could count on a decent job and a decent quality of life. The question posed by this article – Is a high school graduation enough to ensure a decent wage and decent quality of life now?
Just like in the 20th century, a high school diploma will ensure a higher average yearly wage than a non-diploma worker can expect. The current average yearly salary for a high school graduate is $27,500 and a non-high school graduate can expect to make $19,400 annually, which is below the US poverty level, defined at $19,971 annually. The reality of the annual salary is that in real dollars, high school wages have declined 24 percent since 1979, and non-high school wages have declined 39 percent since 1979. While the 1200 students who graduated from ISS can expect to make an average of $27,500 per year, the concern that we continue to have is that over 300 students who started 9th grade in 2003 did not finish high school, and their average earnings will be below the poverty line. ISS is not alone in this number. Our numbers of 70 percent graduates and 30 percent non-completers is equal to national averages and is overall better than state and southeast averages.
While high school graduates will make more than non-high school graduates, the reality is that more education will be needed, and more education will mean higher wages. The Department of Labor classifies jobs into five zones. In zones 1-2, most workers have a high school diploma or less. In zones 3-5, most workers have a college degree. A zone 1 worker will average $12,638 per year, while a zone 5 worker will average $59,113 per year. While the belief it pays to be more educated continues to be a reality, many economists, business leaders, and educators are beginning to realize that, not only do we need to help more students graduate from high school and college, but we must also change what we are teaching and expecting students to learn.
In study after study, it is apparent that business leaders and educators are recognizing that what we teach in high school may not be adequately preparing students for work or college. Many studies cite the mismatch between high school English courses that focus on literature and work and college reading that focuses on technical information. High schools focus on recall of information in many science and math courses; however, businesses and colleges want students who are able to apply concepts, solve problems, analyze data, and think creatively. While high schools focus on narrative writing, the world of work and college will want writers who can research and write persuasively. Colleges and businesses also want students and workers with study skills, time management skills, and persistence.
North Carolina is working with 29 other states in developing the America Diploma project. This project will help define what skills and attitudes high school graduates need to be successful at the work or college level. The NC State Board of Education has recently defined the minimum courses that will be required for graduation, and the graduation class of 2010 will be expected to apply skills and knowledge by completing a high school graduation project. NC is also looking carefully at the state testing and accountability program to see if the current testing program is inhibiting student development of creativity and problem solving due to a focus on recall of information.
In ISS, we continue to restructure our high schools to focus more on rigor, relevance and relationships. All of our high schools have Freshmen Academy programs to help entering freshmen with the transition to high school. All of our high school courses are undergoing work to revise curriculum, instruction, and assessment techniques. Many of our high school teachers and administrators are attending training to help them reform high schools. Also, ISS continues to look for a centralized location for the development of a 21st Century Skills program that will help better prepare graduates for the world that awaits them. ISS teachers and students are also utilizing a continuous improvement model (Plan, Do, Study, Act) that is helping more students learn how to set goals and become responsible for their own learning. While we are making good progress, our goal remains for 100 percent of students graduate from high school ready to continue their education in college or the world of work.
Terry Holliday, Ph. D.
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