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High School Graduates Straddle Hope and Educational Gaps

By Carmen Graciela Díaz

Public high school graduates in America do not seem to know what they do not know. Even though recently graduated students gave their public schools, teachers, and counselors positive evaluations, certain aspects of reality hit hard. They are realizing that they are not as prepared as they thought they were to navigate academia or the work force.

This is one of the main findings of the national survey conducted by the consulting firm Bendixen & Amandi International among high school graduates in order to determine their experience in school and the quality of education they had received.

From August 10 to August 21 of 2015, 2,200 young people (including 600 Hispanics and 600 African-Americans), who had graduated one or two years before were surveyed. One of the aspects of the study was precisely to compare the experience of Hispanics and African-Americans with that of the rest of their peers.

30% of Hispanics surveyed said their high school deserves a grade of “A”

Those polled, mostly between the ages of 18 and 20, had a positive perception of high school. When evaluating the preparation they received, 30% of Hispanics surveyed said their high school deserves a grade of “A,” and 45% believed the school earned a “B.” Meanwhile, the quality of education they received from their high school teachers was described by 30% as “Excellent” and by 50% as “Good.” It is worth questioning whether “good” is sufficient with respect to education, and what aspects need to be adjusted so that teacher and student excellence prevails.

Students also had positive opinions of counselors and teachers, given that 85% of Hispanics answered that they had encouraged them to go to college. Likewise, Hispanics were optimistic toward the future. Fifty-six percent stated they would have “many opportunities” to accomplish the things they want in their personal life as well as work. That figure is higher among African-Americans at 63%.


Shortcomings and Recommendations

Nevertheless, this perception of quality and the expectations reported by those polled does not coincide with specific answers given.  These reveal that the educational system is not living up to the academic standards of excellence necessary in subjects such as English, mathematics, nor in the use of technology or certain knowledge as required by students for optimal preparation for college or the workplace.

When the survey takers asked students enrolled in college, “In general, how well did secondary education prepare you for college?” 45% of Hispanics answered “very well.” This stands in contrast to the 80% that described the quality of the education as “excellent” or “good.” Those who work and do not study were asked the same concerning the quality of the preparation they received for the workplace. Only 38% and 37% of Hispanics and African-Americans, respectively, replied that they felt generally capable of doing what was expected of them.

38% of Hispanics felt generally capable of doing what was expected of them.

Such reality becomes apparent among students enrolled in college.  Forty percent of Hispanics surveyed and 50% of African-Americans needed to take some kind of remedial course in Math, English or both once they have started college or even before. These figures are of concern if we consider a 2012 study by College Complete America, which warned that thousands of students accepted into college never show up for their remedial classes out of frustration which in turn, may work against graduation rates.

Many have argued that school ought to be a setting conducive to stimulus and constant challenge, but barely 40% of Hispanics surveyed stated that their high school set high academic expectations, and that they were challenged in a significant way.

This ultimately has its consequences. Day to day activities at college and on the job, prove to them that they are lacking a set of tools necessary for dealing with both worlds successfully.

Taking that into account, after learning what they now know of the expectations of the academic world and of the workplace, those polled are in agreement as to some of the courses they would have liked to have had greater access to in school.

44% of Hispanics would have liked to have had greater communication skills.

For example, 50% of Hispanics stated that they would have liked to have had courses in speech, and the opportunity to develop presentation skills. And along those lines, 44% of them would like to have had greater skills and abilities in communication.

The outcomes are not just at the academic level. In the workplace, among those who work and are not currently studying, only 17% of Hispanics gave assurances that they felt properly trained for “many” jobs, in comparison with 27% of African-Americans.

On average, those polled replied that in order to graduate high school, they were required to write documents (71%), conduct research (50%) and participate in laboratory experiments (58%), and less than half were required to conduct experiments or prove a hypothesis (43%).

The process of establishing and proving a hypothesis, for example, has much to do with the students’ development of critical thinking and there has been ample discussion that the encouragement of analytical thinking should be a teaching strategy for the classroom and for life’s complexities.


Technology and Aspirations

Today’s daily routines cannot be understood without technology and the ways in which people work, study and socialize through the Internet. Schools in the 21st century are adapting to this context, but there are still some areas that need to be dealt with.

Of the Hispanics surveyed, 76% stated they had had access to the technology they needed for completing schoolwork, and 41% indicated they had computers in a laboratory or library.

76% of Hispanics stated they had had access to the technology they needed.

For the classes taken in high school, 79% of Hispanics reported that they had prepared documents using programs such as Microsoft Word, 63% had had to conduct research using the Internet, 41% prepared spreadsheets on programs such as Microsoft Excel and 24% worked with databases on programs such as Microsoft Access.

Nevertheless, barely 23% of Hispanics said that their school had done an “excellent” job with respect to the technological preparation they received to prepare them for higher education or the workplace.

Another essential aspect of the survey is the vantage point derived as it pertains to the interest that young people have in education and politics.

The survey takers found that 25% of Hispanics responded by saying that they were very interested in politics and civic participation, and more than half stated that the topic of education was important in considering whom they would be voting for (57%).

25% of Hispanics were very interested in politics and civic participation.

Furthermore, for Hispanics, some of the topics having greater relevance when considering whom they would be voting for in the 2016 presidential elections include: education and public schools (27%), the economy and jobs (22%), immigration reform (17% as opposed to 9% for the national average and 5% for African-Americans surveyed), wage equality for men and women (14%), healthcare (13%) and equality for the LGBT community (12%).

They were asked: “When you think about what is needed for reaching your dreams and goals, how important is having a good secondary education?”  Such preparation was in fact “very important” according to 71% of Hispanics respondents. Nonetheless, barely 25% of Hispanics surveyed revealed that their school had done an “excellent” job giving them a clear understanding of the expectations, the knowledge and the skills that they would need for their future.

The data stands as a voice of high school graduates. There is a long road ahead in achieving educational excellence.