Liberals Cause American High Schools to Fail

I am a liberal. I have been a civil rights supporter since the 60’s. Now, however, we as a country must step back and look at what liberals have done to America’s high schools. The liberals have meant well, but the unintended consequences are terrible for the country. It made sense that they looked to education to create a more equitable society. They thought education would allow poor children to achieve a place in American society.

Lyndon Johnson, as part of his War on Poverty, sent billions of dollars to poverty schools in America. Schools hired additional teachers, paraprofessionals, and bought new materials. This compensatory education program began in 1966. Bush rewrote it with more testing accountability and Obama essentially continued the same type program. This federally funded push to improve poverty area education is now fifty years old. And surprise, children who live in poverty still don’t do well in school. After so long, it is really unbelievable that no one has said we need to look beyond test scores to evaluate student success. The problem was these well-meaning American leaders used the wrong tool to evaluate the success of their effort in education.

In America's high schools, we need to look at student attendance, real graduation rates, and look at how many kids obtain employable skills while in high school. I have walked down the halls of high schools when half the students were not in attendance. It is impossible to learn if you are not in school. The graduation rates have been played with in order to make high schools look better than they are. They leave out large populations and include students in programs that are not true high school diploma programs. It has become a game to avoid the reality of low high school graduation rates. The reality of career technical education in America’s high schools is little known. Students are pushed out of taking career technical education courses by having to take and retake college prep courses that they do not need.

The supermajority of high school students never has any use for college prep courses. Only thirty percent of high school students will graduate from college. The impact of this college prep only curriculum is to push students out of career technical education courses. The relatively few students who do take career technical education courses end up with a smattering of courses and no employable skill. Counselors figure out a student schedule by slotting in required courses and then place students into whatever is left in the elective period remaining to be filled. The sequencing of career technical education courses is what builds employable skills. High school students need three and preferably four years of a career technical education program to be employable when they graduate. If they take four years of one career technical education program they can receive about 900 hours of occupational education. By 900 hours, I mean an hour per day for three years and then a two-hour course during the senior year. This is far more hours than a college major. The high school dropout rate is highest in the ninth grade so that is when students must be enrolled in career technical education programs. And counselors must prioritize one career technical education program course each year thereafter to ensure completion of an employable skill.

The present non-system of education has millions of students leaving high school with no employable skill. The liberal leaders who meant well have damaged the very students that they meant to help. Black and Hispanic students have a disproportionate representation in high school dropouts, crime, and prison. The country needs to understand test scores are not the only goal worth pursuing and measuring. I know that sounds like heresy, but for the majority of high school students test scores do not measure what they need from their high school experience. They need preparation for the world after high school, which means work. All high schools must follow-up on their graduates with employment as the major indicator of success of their public high school institution. Once employment is accepted as the single most important success criteria, high school reform will begin to move forward.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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