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Editorial: Graduating without learning

Ill-prepared high school graduates entering college and the work world represent one of our community’s most serious concerns. Businesses looking for areas in which to locate – think Amazon HQ2, as an example – demand an educated, skilled workforce.

Yet, community colleges and even four-year colleges routinely contend with new students who cannot read at grade level or perform simple math problems. Time and resources, including New Yorkers’ tax dollars, are being spent on remedial training.

It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: High school graduates need to be prepared for the next step and that only occurs through hard work on the part of students, parents, guardians and the educational system. Anything less is an epic fail, especially on the part of an entire community of adults.

A statewide coalition focused on better preparing high school students for college and careers recently released a survey detailing the poor statistics. For example, only one in three recent high school graduates in New York State felt “significantly challenged” by their high school courses. And nearly half of those who went to college reported having to take at least one remedial course.

The survey was released by the New York Equity Coalition, which consists of parents, businesses, education and civil rights groups. They want state education officials to provide more rigor for all students.

There is a clear racial disparity in providing access to challenging and advanced courses, with minorities coming out on the short end of the stick. The result is sure to send many young people into the world unprepared. It’s nothing less than travesty. Moreover, this bias – whether unconscious, or deliberate – harms society, which relies upon a well-trained workforce.

The survey of more than 1,000 individuals who graduated between 2013 and 2017 produced some disturbing responses. For example, while 34 percent said their high school expectations were high and that they were “significantly challenged,” 52 percent said they were only “somewhat challenged” in high school. And 14 percent said they weren’t really challenged at all.

Deeply depressing is that 47 percent of graduates who went on to college said that they had to take a remedial course in at least one subject. That percentage was higher among graduates who enrolled in a two-year college. Educators should be all over this statistic: Forty-five percent said they wished their high school had done a better job preparing them in math, specifically.

“First-generation college students” – those whose parents or guardians didn’t go on to higher education – reported feeling less prepared than others. While 64 percent of graduates whose parents went to college said they felt well-prepared, only 53 percent of first-generation students felt the same.

Efforts to change this intolerable dynamic are underway. Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash has implemented his reform agenda, the New Education Bargain. Say Yes to Education-Buffalo is not only providing students with the opportunity to attend college but offers wraparound support for students and families. Led by Mayor Byron W. Brown, the state and federal governments are funding the Northland Workforce Training Center, which will offer under-served members of the community opportunity to learn skills in the manufacturing sector.

Those programs may be helpful in better preparing students, but the need is overwhelming. In today’s knowledge-based society, it is not sufficient to graduate high school without having truly been educated. It is a hard lesson being taught to countless young people scrambling to catch up on what they didn’t learn.

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