ACLU and NAACP Should Sue American High Schools

We should all be angry that no one seems to be connecting the lack of high school career technical education to youth experiencing negative outcomes when they leave school. It is time to utilize litigation to force a solution when high schools have been neglectful in their duty to American youth. Clearly, it would be better to have national leadership support career technical education in America’s high schools. However, there is literally no one speaking for average and low achieving high school students. A series of lawsuits directed at American high schools is desperately required to finally address the needs of the supermajority of high school students. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP successfully sued to end segregation in America. It is time for a similar approach to resolve American high school elitism. The Civil Rights Project has already deemed the high school dropout problem as a civil rights issue. People of color are being impacted in a disproportionate way making NAACP involvement appropriate. The heart of the case is that American high schools have deprived our youth from obtaining skills necessary to obtain employment in America. The omission of an appropriate public education in employment preparation has harmed millions of young people and this practice continues to this day.

Demonstrating the very important question of legal standing is easy. Seventy percent of the 2.5 million people in prison in America and 4.5 million people on probation and parole are high school dropouts. Clearly, the high schools of America have failed these young people in the most basic way. However, the problem is actually much worse than the dropout problem. Over the past thirty years, college prep elitists, who have pushed a college prep curriculum for all students, have captured American high schools. This means the entire seventy percent of high school students who do not go on to graduate from college and are left without employable skills are the client population.

To represent the case, the ACLU and NAACP could utilize young men and women presently in prison who had no opportunity to obtain employable skills in high school. Unfortunately, finding the victims of negligent high school education is easy. Prisons are full of them. Millions of youth have been pushed out of high school with no employable skills. They joined gangs, sold drugs, used drugs, prostituted themselves, and committed various crimes. The lawsuits can demonstrate that these life trajectories did not have to occur. The high schools should have intervened with high quality career technical education programs that prepare youth for employment and then actually helped the graduates find jobs. Educators have no excuse. The country had a vibrant vocational education program that was purposely destroyed in the vain hope that all kids can somehow magically be altered into above average achieving college prep students. It is truly absurd idea, but that is today’s reality.

The lawsuits can handily demonstrate that all of Western Europe, Canada, Japan, and Australia require their average and below average youth take a program of career technical education. These countries have what would be deemed a system of employment preparation in their high schools. The cold reality is that we do not have anything that resembles a system of high school employment preparation and the consequences are enormous and terrible and expensive. There is no reason why the United States cannot develop a systematic program of employment preparation in high school for all average and below average youth.

The remedy for the lawsuits that makes the most sense for a national high school career technical education program is the career academy. The highest high school dropout rate occurs in the ninth grade so the educational intervention must begin at that point in time or earlier. Career academies offer four-year sequences of career technical education programs of typically nine hundred hours that provide for the development of employable skills. Career academies also provide self-esteem for career technical education teachers and students. This needed educational intervention cannot be done in today’s high schools. After thirty years of abuse by America’s high schools, a completely new form of high school, the career academy as the educational intervention is essential. The condescension of high school staff toward anything non-college-bound must be overcome by expansion of career academies on a massive scale. A second part of the remedy must be job placement staff within the career academies to provide internships and job placement.

It is unfortunate to advocate lawsuits to create desperately needed educational reform, but nothing else seems to work. There is no effective, nationwide advocacy for average and low achieving students. If you are not college bound, no one speaks for you. Thus, ACLU and NAACP sue now to make America’s school systems do what they should have done a very long time ago. Millions of youth have had their lives destroyed already. It is time to advocate for the upcoming cohorts of our youth who urgently need an appropriate education.

If this coherent education blog makes you think, please forward it to every thinking person you know and ask them to read all of the past blogs and to subscribe.

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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