It is common knowledge that quality high school coursework is crucial to college and workplace success. There was a point that high school students need to complete a more rigorous curriculum if the nation is to remain competitive in the global economy. Since then, research has confirmed the wisdom of this recommendation. Longitudinal studies have found that the academic intensity of high school courses counts more than any other pre-collegiate factor in predicting college success.
Despite the progress, there is still a gap between high school graduation and college and workplace expectations. This is indicated by the continued need for remedial coursework in college as well as the student, faculty, and employer reports of under-prepared high school graduates. Recently, a new wave of national attention has been directed to beefing up the high school curriculum.
A recent survey has found significant changes in the number of states moving toward requiring all students to complete “a college- and work-ready curriculum.” The curriculum is defined as four years of rigorous English coursework and mathematics through at least Algebra
Another approach states have adopted is to offer an optional college-preparatory diploma. The goal is to encourage more and more students to choose this option.
Also it will become the admissions requirement for public four-year colleges in the state. There is considerable discussion about aligning high school graduation requirements with college admissions requirements, but little alignment to date. Part of the problem is that half the states do not have statewide coursework requirements for college admissions. This problem is greatest in schools attended by low-income and minority students where course titles may be changing to meet new requirements without sufficiently upgrading the content. As more students are required to take advanced courses, it is necessary to take actions to assure that courses are not being watered down and that students are mastering the essential knowledge and skills. A project that identified the components of successful high-level college preparatory courses was recently completed. It developed syllabi and course descriptions that can be used by districts as a starting point for evaluating present courses.
The issue of aligning high school standards with real world expectations emerged as an important topic, and some progress is already being made. One focus area is the importance of raising graduation requirements to increase curricular rigor and improve preparation. The national program used business leaders to motivate students to complete a rigorous course of study in high school. Finally, at the federal level, academic competitiveness grants went into effect and in order to qualify for these grants, students must have taken a recognized rigorous secondary curriculum.
Much action is already occurring in policy arena. To assure that the changes move in the right direction, higher education leaders must be proactive and involved. First and foremost, postsecondary education must provide essential information about high school courses that are required for postsecondary admissions and the nature of the knowledge and skills needed for postsecondary success—the standards and expectations that high school courses must address. Higher education can and must do more. Colleges can offer advanced courses to high school students in locations where high schools do not offer a full academic curriculum, particularly in schools that serve low-income and minority students. They must prepare new teachers who can teach according to the high school standards. They need to provide early warning systems that identify high school students who are not on track for college-readiness, coordinate data systems and provide important feedback to high schools. All of these actions by higher education can provide a much-needed anchor to help guide the current wave of high school reform.