In survey after survey, overwhelming majorities of students say they aspire to college and great careers. One, recently conducted by a national education group, TNTP, finds that 94 percent of students say they have college plans. As for career dreams, students told researchers things like: “I’m hoping to be a neurologist” and “I’m hoping to be a trauma nurse.”
Such high hopes might sound familiar in your community. Young people are shooting for the stars, striving to make it big in college, career and life. But are we doing all we can to help them reach their dreams?
In a recently published Thomas B. Fordham Institute analysis, I dug into state data on students’ readiness for college and career. The hard reality is this: The majority of Ohio students leave high school ill-equipped to succeed in college or technical training, the gateways to long and rewarding careers. Let’s review the key data.
First, state exam results indicate that just 36 percent and 38 percent of Ohio students meet the rigorous college-and-career-ready targets set by the Ohio State Board of Education in math and English, respectively. In Akron, these percentages fall into the 20s. Tragically, in a few cities such as Cleveland and Columbus, they dip into the teens.
Second, a scant 4 percent of Ohio students leave high school with industry-recognized credentials that support advancement in careers such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care and information systems.
Third, just 26 percent of high schoolers meet the college ready targets in all areas of the ACT or SAT. When students head to college unprepared academically, they often end up in remedial classes, increasing their odds of dropping out with only debt and regret.
Fourth, just 33 percent of Ohio’s young people complete an associate’s degree or higher six years after high school. Although not all good-paying jobs require post-secondary education, projections indicate that 65 percent of in-demand careers will do so in the coming years. This disparity reflects the “talent gap” between the skills demanded by employers and those possessed by today’s young people.
These may feel like cold statistics, but they represent real students and their futures. Tens of thousands of young people from all quarters of the state are shuffling through our school systems — often receiving diplomas when they exit — without having mastered the knowledge and skills needed for life after high school.
To be sure, there are ongoing policy debates in Ohio about how to resolve such educational gaps. Regrettably, policymakers are moving toward solutions that either lower the bar or sweep the problems under the rug. They include things like: handing out diplomas for minimal work, tossing state exams, softening school accountability and weakening transparency. Granted, all this protects adult interests, but it doesn’t put students at the forefront.
It’s unfair to Ohio’s families and communities to be anything less than transparent about how well schools are preparing students. And scuttling accountability systems leaves pupils stuck inside “dropout factories,” and it doesn’t allow us to identify schools needing help or quality schools worth replicating and learning from.
Gov.-elect Mike DeWine and the next General Assembly have a tough job ahead to hold the line against attempts to weaken accountability and make schools feel better without actually improving student outcomes. It’s imperative that the new administration keeps its focus on maintaining high expectations for all students and creating bold, new opportunities for them to graduate college and career ready. Ohio’s students are dreaming big; let’s not let them down.
Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.