from around the world are compared, American students fare just about as well as students from other countries. When middle school students are compared, Americans perform more poorly than their counterparts from most industrialized Asian countries, but at a level comparable to young adolescents from most western European countries, and considerably better than adolescents from less developed nations (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). But when the comparison focuses on high school students, the gap between the United States and other countries is substantial (J. Schmidt, 2003). According to recent international comparisons, 15-year-olds in the United States ranked slightly above average in reading, well below average in science, and near the bottom of the list in math (OECD, 2014a The relatively poor performance of American high school students in international competitions persists despite the fact that spending on education in the United States is among the world’s highest (OECD, 2014b). Despite how much is spent, at 4-year American colleges and universities, 20% of entering college freshmen require some sort of remedial education in order to do college-level work; at community colleges, half of all entering students do. As a result, employers and post-secondary educational institutions alike today devote vast amounts of money to remedial education—colleges and universities spend an estimated $3 billion annually covering subject matter that students should have mastered before graduating from high school (Complete College, 2012). And, as astounding as it may sound, more than 80% of college students enrolled in remedial education graduated from high school with a GPA of 3.0 or better (Strong American Schools, 2008 If more American students are remaining in high school, and so many are going on to college, why are their achievement test scores so low according to absolute, historical, and international standards? Experts suggest several reasons: that teachers are not challenging students to work hard; that very little time is spent on writing; that there has been a pervasive decline in the difficulty of textbooks; that parents are not encouraging academic pursuits at home; that students are not spending sufficient time on their studies outside of school; that students are permitted to choose what courses they take; and that students know that, thanks to “grade inflation,” they can earn good grades without working very hard (Steinberg, 2014
D. Dropping Out of High School There was a time when leaving high school before graduating did not have the dire consequences that it does today. With changes in the labor force, however, have come changes in the educational requirements for entry into the world of work. Today, educational attainment is a powerful predictor of adult occupational success and earnings.
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