Issues and challenges

In many urban areas throughout the U.S., public high schools struggle with poor standardized test scores and low graduation rates, as well as high teacher turnover. In 2015, only 37% of American students were prepared for college-level math and reading. Despite a doubling of spending since the mid-1970s, average educational attainment has stagnated.

Thirty states throughout the U.S. require schools to have a 180-day calendar, while the international average for days required in school is 193—about two more weeks than most U.S. schools. Education is also highly correlated with employment and workforce participation. More than 50% of high school dropouts are not in the labor force, and an additional 19% are looking for work.

Issues surrounding the education system are highlighted even further when comparing educational statistics and outcomes of other industrialized nations. According to a Pew Research Center report, only 29% of Americans rated their K-12 education as above average or best in the world. If the U.S. boosted its average Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores by 25 points over the next 20 years, the U.S. economy could see an increase of $41 trillion.

Fast Facts

  • Today’s K-12 students are more racially diverse than ever before. In 2013, half of Americans younger than five were visible minorities.
  • According to 2015 PISA results, the U.S. ranks 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.
  • Increases in higher education among minorities and educational gains for women are leading millennials to be the most educated generation in history.

Addressing education inequality

In general, higher educational attainment leads to higher rates of employment and, in many cases, higher income earning potential. But while education is vital to solving inequality in the United States, progress can’t occur without solving educational inequality first. Students who come from low-income families are seven times more likely to drop out than those from families with higher incomes. And 40% of children living in poverty are not prepared for primary schooling. The social inequalities of education become evident when a child’s area code correlates with the opportunities available to them.

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