What the real world demands

Students should demonstrate the skills needed for college and work to earn a high school diploma, write proponents of the American Diploma Project in Education Week. After all, “90 percent of 8th graders aspire to attend college, some postsecondary education is a necessity for getting almost any job that pays a family wage, and just being a well-informed citizen requires analytic thinking and problem-solving skills.”

The American Diploma Project “set out to identify the core competencies in mathematics and English language arts that high school graduates must have in order to enter and succeed in credit-bearing college courses and in decent jobs in high-wage, high-growth occupations.”

A wide gap yawns between the knowledge and skills we have identified as essential and those that today’s students are required to demonstrate.

The American Diploma Project asked leading economists to examine market projections for the jobs that pay enough to support a family well above the poverty level and provide real potential for career advancement. The project team analyzed the high school transcripts of employees in those occupations, and worked closely with more than 300 front-line managers and faculty members from two- and four-year colleges who teach a range of arts and sciences courses to examine the academic demands upon their students and identify the prerequisite knowledge and skills required to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing courses. The team also analyzed states’ high school standards and assessments, as well as college-placement exams.

Based on this research, we recently released a set of mathematics and English language arts benchmark expectations for high school graduates. The ADP benchmarks are ambitious. They reflect unprecedented convergence in what employers and college faculty expect from new employees and students. In math, they contain content typically taught in Algebra 1, Algebra 2, geometry, and data analysis and statistics. In English, they demand strong oral and written communications skills that are staples in college classrooms and high-performance workplaces. They also describe analytic and research skills that today are commonly found only in high school honors courses.

State graduation exams typically require ninth and 10th grade skills, far below what’s necessary to succeed in the 21st century.

About Joanne


  1. Mad Scientist says:

    And this is suprising? Just read any position description in a professional/trade journal or Monster.com and you see those as minimum job requirements.

    Didn’t need no fancy study to figure that one out.

    What ever happened to basic common sense?

  2. Cheryl_O says:

    I found the link to be very helpful with specific, detailed examples listed- in English, not educanese! However, I suspect that any parent interested in reading this study (or Joanne’s blog for that matter) already has most of the bases covered. The parents/kids that so desperately need the suggestions from the study will never see it.

  3. Create some “pull” as well as “push” by giving students & their parents a better idea of what is required to do various jobs. Specific suggestion: an hour a week, 6th through 8th grades…watch a series of videotapes focusing on what it’s like to be a nurse, a pilot, a sales executive, a software engineer…interviews with actual people doing the jobs and showing how they use knowledge in them. Send to videos to parent so they can watch them, too.

  4. Our states would have higher standards for graduation exams, if a lot of parents could learn to accept the fact that Johnny/Jeannie is going to fail once or twice before they get the message. Despite years of bad examples, we still seem to focus on getting them graduated, rather than educated (and for that matter, from one grade to the next rather than holding them until they learn the materials necessary). Unfortunately, anytime dicussion of raising standards comes up, many parents lobby their legislatures because their “little angle” wouldn’t make it under the new standards.

  5. ” Unfortunately, anytime dicussion of raising standards comes up, many parents lobby their legislatures because their “little angle” wouldn’t make it under the new standards.”

    Yes, but don’t you find it shameful that our schools systematically discriminate against the obtuse?

    (sorry: couldn’t resist the pun. I realise that “angle” was a typo for “angel”.)

  6. Well, when states impose graduation exam requirements to receive a diploma (and these tests are often at a 10th grade level, not 12th grade). Then the parents start whining when johnny or jane won’t be getting a diploma because they can’t pass the exams (usually at a passing score of 60% or less, mind you).

    I don’t have much sympathy for students or parents who don’t bother to do homework, study hard, and make proper class selections while in high school (I see high school grads having to take a lot of remedial courses in college because of piss poor class selection in high school).

    The issue of grade inflation and self-esteem is another problem, but that’s another story 🙂

  7. Julia, that was acute remark.

  8. I’m attending graduate classes in history at a California state college right now. Except for a few special cases, the department has dropped the thesis option because, all too often, student language skills are so poor that they can’t write a thesis, try as they might. This represents such a glaring example of the failure of high school and college education programs. It’s good to see an attempt to try to put some value back into a diploma. It would also be healthy to question whether all students really are entitled to a college education — but that’s another topic, I suppose.

  9. slimedog says:

    JJ, thanks for the tip and the link to the ADP site. The math benchmark section on data analysis and statistics tracks very closely to the basic skills taught in statistical literacy courses. And the stuff about calculators is just gravy! I’m adding it to my curriculum development guidelines. Thanks again.

  10. Mad Scientist says:


    Tell me, how will it feel to get a degree that is supposed to be difficult practically handed to you for showing up?

    Seems like a real bad case of self-esteem building.

  11. D. Cooper says:

    Craig … I’m almost afraid to chime in here because Mad will be chasing me around the site to refute anything I say, but the ‘dummying’ down is the result of a long process that goes beyond the education system. The colleges get underprepared students from the high schools, the high schools get underprepared students from junior high and so on down the line. As a high school teacher for over 30 years, I saw a steady decline in the skill level of the incoming freshmen … this in turn shows up eventually in colleges with students being less and less prepared. Haiving to take students from point A to point B regardless of their skill level at point A becomes a more difficult process as the initial skill level decreases. The time frame remains the same, but the amount of learning has to increase. That’s where the ‘magic’ comes in. But, alas, there is no magic.

    We as a nation are not sending the same quality student to the school house door as we were 20 years ago. We compete with MTV, VH1, the Extreme Dating show, ‘gangsta’ rap and Howard Stern. There’s a culture ‘war’ and it’s real. If you don’t think so watch cable TV some night (go to a rich friend’s house if you don’t have it) and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t think that’s having a profound affect on our schools and students then wake up and smell the cappuccino.

  12. To hear of a graduate program even offering a non-thesis option in history so that students who have pathetic language skills can receive a degree which they didn’t earn (IMO) is sad indeed.

    I guess when people actually start taking a look what colleges actually produce vs. what it costs, perhaps it doesn’t seem like such a good bargain.

  13. The history MA degree still isn’t a cakewalk, even without the thesis, believe me. Most students have only the option of a comprehensive exam at the end of the coursework, which is also true in many technical degree programs.

    I do wonder what many of the students who get the history MA will expect of their students (many of them intend to become teachers). They probably won’t expect their students to write well. How could they? Would they know how to evaluate them?

  14. D.Cooper: Yes, I see what you mean. You won’t get an argument from me.

  15. Mad Scientist says:

    It is quite simple: If you cannot communicate well, who cares what you have to say.

    The writing of the thesis is just a minor part of the whole degree. The rigor of a thesis is to develop an origonal piece of work, reseach it thoroughly, analyze it, and to communicate your findings.

    As far as a non-thesis option is concerned in the technical fields, it is viewed as a TERMINAL degree. That is, it is designed to be the option for students who will not be pursuing the PhD.

    So I guess it’s fine to say “well, we’ve got what we’ve got, and don’t ask me to correct it.” Great attitude for quality control.

    If Public Education were a business, it would be bankrupt.

  16. D. Cooper says:

    Mad … your usual dig at public education was not appreciated, but surely expected. BTW, if you were in business and the plastic molds your company was using weren’t producing the same quality product as of late, I’m sure you’d check the molds, but at some you’d do well to check your plastic supplier!! Being the smart boy you are (self proclaimed on this blog more than once)… you get the idea.

  17. Walter Wallis says:

    Be nice, D.B.

  18. D. Cooper says:

    Trust me WW, I’m being about as nice as I can without being banished … you should know how I really feel … but then I’d have fallen victim to the button pushing. So, I restrain myself.

    So it’s D.B. Cooper … want sky diving lessons?

  19. Tom West says:

    This came up at Numebr 2 pencil, and I’ll reiterate my point here.

    There problem with making a HS diploma mean something is that it would have drastically different consequences for different communities. For high achieving schools, the idea of a 5% failure rate is probably handleable. That is, the outcry from parents might not be sufficient to kill the initiative.

    However, in low performing schools, any demand that the students show skills suitable for performing well in college would produce failure rates near 80%. (And given that many of these students are performing years behind grade level in a laxer curriculum than the one this demands means the vast majority will *never* graduate.)

    Do you have any idea what telling communities that
    “the vast majority of your children are unworthy of ever being able to complete a *high school* degree” would do? Ihe socially destructive effects on the community would be horrendous! (And the politically destructive effects on the proponents would finish the program.)

    There is no denying the costs that our students pay under the current “attend, do some work, get a degree” system, but unless we’re willing to acknowledge and address the fact that the educational system has merely adapted to what society demands from its schools, any attempt to tighten up the system is doomed.

  20. Mad Scientist says:

    I would suggest a careful review of the NYS Regents Exam for basic math. Passing it is a requirement for graduating. Oh yeah, and it only takes something like a 55 to pass.

    In Buffalo, there was a huge outcry about the dismal passing rate. Many students did not pass. The parental response? Complain that the test was too tough. Special tutoring sessions were paid for by the district, attendance was less than poor.

    Parents want their kids to graduate, but they do not see it as worthey of the work required to call it an accomplishment. Unless you consider just showing up for 4 years an accomplishment.

    The self-esteem building that subjects us to Preschool graduations, Elementary School graduations, and Middle School graduations must end.

  21. Mad Scientist says:

    And my typing today is less than worthey. At least that’s how Shakespeare might spell it.

  22. Tom West says:

    Parents want their kids to graduate, but they do not see it as worthy of the work required to call it an accomplishment.

    Your point is made, but it is not practical. Tell me how you plan to handle the situation of communities where schools suddenly have a graduation rate in the single digits? How do you handle the massive dropout rates when students realize that there is no point to going to school? How do you handle racial relations when you tell ethnic communities that none beyond a handful of there children earned a diploma for the years they spent?

    High-stakes testing may well give a needed boot to the underperforming students in good schools. But its also likely to be as destructive to other communities as a torch to gasoline. And failure to recognize the enormous social impact it has means that high-stakes testing (and preventiong social promotion, etc.) will deservedly die the death of any policy that ignores the realities of the group it is imposed upon.

    Instead of assuming that magically the system will right itself, start devising policies to handle the real outcomes. Then I’ll be prepared to back these changes.

  23. Mad Scientist says:


    In Buffalo, near where I live, the graduation rate is dismal, and the dropout rate is sky high. Students don’t see the point of school, and the parents don’t coerce them to go.

    The Buffalo School District is one of the “Big Four” in NYS (outside of NYC) in terms of students (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers). And currently none beyond a handful of these children earn a diploma for all the years spent.

    The community wants lower standards just so junior can SAY he’s a high schoold graduate. Who cares if he’s a functional illiterate? He’s got his DIPLOMA!

    The parents do care that their children graduate. The parents do not care to make their children do the work. They KNOW they need to take these courses, and the courses are taught to the test. They are given every opportunity for tutoring, extra help, special review courses. Few take advantage of the opportunities offered to them.

    After a while, we taxpayers just say “to hell with it”. All that social gibberish about race relations ends when someone does not take the opportunities offered to them. Something about leading a horse to water comes to mind.

    Actions have consequences. FAILURE to take action also has consequences. It’s not like the test isn’t fair. It’s not like the test isn’t graded on a curve. It’s not like the test has an absurdly low passing grade. It’s not like we are deliberately trying to make these people fail.

    They have failed themselves, by failing to apply themselves.


    But hell, where is the next generation of burger flippers going to come from?

  24. D. Cooper says:

    Mad … are you starting to see the effects of the ‘culture’ war that we’re losing … your posting here seems to indicate that … that’s actually good … it’s not really the teachers or their representative union … we’re believe or not fighting just this very same battle. It almost seems as if you’re actually placing the blame where it really belongs.

    It’s … you can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.