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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

U.S. High School Graduation Rates 19th in World

On Sept 9, 2008, NBC Nightly News reported that the US rank 19th, just ahead of Mexico, in percentage of students graduating high school. In a well-cited article, Economist's View presents and elaborates on high school graduation and wage data, concluding that the gap between high school graduates and drop-outs is widening.

America is becoming a polarized society. Proportionately more American youth are going to college and graduating than ever before. At the same time, proportionately more are failing to complete high school.

Perhaps twenty years ago I read an article wherein the author prophesied the present dichotomy between the educated elite and “techno-peasants.” The author described techno-peasants as people who flip hamburgers all day and play computer games all night. I attempted to find the article in a Google search and discovered the term “techno-peasant” has entered English vocabulary, but I was unable to find the original article. Twenty years before the techno-peasant article, the Kerner Report foresaw the same situation with its famous and controversial conclusion:
Our nation is moving towards two societies — one white, one black — separate and unequal

With the educational polarization of America in place and squeezing of the middle class accelerating the economic polarization of America, we see another example of the tight connection between education and economics. The Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education (CBCSE) estimates that boosting high school graduation rates would save $45 billion per year. The Chronicle of Higher Education also laments the decline in graduation rates.

Employers continue to fill job vacancies with warm bodies. Students do not experience much encouragement to achieve academically. As one comment noted:
I believe the central culprit at the bottom of this is American popular culture and values. We as a society do not truly value educational attainment except as a ticket to money and status. We do not respect teachers, as is the case in many other developed and developing countries, and we have a range of derogatory names for children who excell in academics, e.g. geek, dweeb, dork and so forth. I am not surprised by these findings and if things don’t change in terms of fundamental values regarding education and intellectual achievement, this country will sink to a second-world level. I believe we are already sinking.
Christina Newhill Apr 1, (2008) 04:22 PM

I have long argued that American society needs to examine its fundamental assumptions and values about education. Right now America has the education system it wants. When America decides it wants something different, nothing will stand in its way.

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