This paper summarizes our recent report on the success and shortcomings of high schools in California. High school represents a critical phase in the educational development of K-12 students. Our report examines high schools through the lens of three groups of high school students.
Dropouts (Students Who Fail to Graduate).
About 30 percent of the entering ninth grade class fails to graduate on time.
Research and data suggest that the factors leading to student dropouts are in
place by the time students enter ninth grade. Despite decades of trying,
research has not identified programs or services that consistently reduce
The "General" Track (Students Who Graduate Without Qualifying for a Four-Year University). This includes about 45 percent of entering ninth grade students. About one-half of this group attends college after graduation and the other one-half enters the labor force. Research and data indicate that many in this group do not have clear postgraduation goals, which prevents these students from using high school most effectively to make a smoother transition to adult life.
The "University" Track (Students Who Graduate and Qualify for Admission to the State’s Public Four-Year Universities). These students account for about one-quarter of entering ninth grade students. Entering college freshmen frequently lack the English or mathematics skills required for study at the university level. Higher education admissions and placement policies contribute to the problem, as they fail to clearly communicate the skill levels needed for success in college.
Despite considerable differences in the problems facing
these groups, several themes emerge in our recommendations that are consistent
across the groups. Our recommendations address the problems experienced by high
school students by strengthening accountability, improving information, and
We recommend the Legislature "fine
tune" accountability programs by:
We also suggest several ways the
Legislature could employ information to help make high schools more responsive
to student needs by:
Flexibility also is a theme of our
report. Improvements could be made by:
The Bottom Line
While many critical factors are outside of the state’s
control, we think our recommendations provide a strategic approach for how the
state can contribute to improving high schools.