Americans Say High Schools Aren’t Challenging Our Students

By Sam Rosensohn

Survey Reveals Americans Believe High Schools Need to Be Overhauled

Not that you needed a national survey to tell you this one – nine out of ten parents do not believe that American high school students are challenged by their schoolwork.

In a major new survey on education reform, only nine percent of Americans   believe that the majority of high schools students have to break a sweat in class.

The findings come from Ready for the Real World? Americans Speak on High School Reform, which was released last week by Educational Testing Services (ETS).

The survey showed a broad range of support for various high school reform measures:

  • Eighty percent said that teacher salaries should be increased to attract better qualified teachers even if it meant increased real estate taxes.
  • Seventy-four percent of the public strongly favors measures to ensure teachers are experts in the subjects they teach.
  • Sixty-four percent strongly favors emphasizing real world learning opportunities in high school through work study, community service and vocational courses.
  • Forty-two percent strongly favors extending No Child Left Behind reforms to high schools in order to raise standards and hold high schools accountable.
  • Ninety-five percent overwhelmingly favors a rigorous course of study in computer science.
  • Six percent said that “a great deal” has been done towards making necessary reforms in grades K-8, while 50 percent believe additional major reforms are necessary in elementary schools.

The survey, created and administered by ETS which is best known for making the SATs, brought to mind a mom who had called earlier in the week. Her son is on track to be the valedictorian at his high school, and she called to talk about his mediocre SAT scores.

“He’s in AP you name it; I don’t see how he could score so poorly. Do you think he bubbled wrong?”  That was the second call that day about bubbles.

“Well,” I said, “he might have bubbled wrong, but I get lots of calls from parents who share the same story. Kid is a terrific student and scores in the 52 percentile.”

The Ready for the Real World? survey sheds light on why so many students who’ve done really well in school don’t do nearly as well on this college entrance exam. The bar for the SAT is held higher than the bar in most high school classes.

This past week my son, Zac, a rising senior at Valley Regional High School, his mom, Ann Louise, and I attended three football camps. Zac wants to play football in college and a good way to be seen by coaches is to do the camps.

The first one was at Amherst. It’s melting hot out. I’m standing on a hill looking out at 150 football players, measuring my son against every other kid on the field.

A kid makes a tough catch look easy and a coach wants to talk to him. The coach bellows out for the receiver. “Hey,” no mistaking this loud and gravely voice. The boy looks up, sights the coach, and walks over.

“What are your SATs?” The coach didn’t ask his name; the scores came before the player. The boy shrugged his shoulders.

That knocked me out. Not, “Hi, my name is Coach Andrews, that was a nice catch. What’s your name?”  But rather, does he have the credentials, if not, no sense wasting time. There are a lot of superior athletes on the field with the transcripts.

Next day Zac was at Dartmouth, scores came up again, and then down to Yale for another combine. Coach after coach asked about the scores. There’s no getting around the test. It is a gatekeeper.

So since we’re back on The Test and kids not making the grade, a few pointers on what students can do this summer to prepare for the critical reading piece on the SAT, and to challenge themselves to learn more at the same time. Read, read, read. And read demanding material that is going to force you to scratch your head, and look up at least one word every other page.

Since it’s unlikely that non-readers are not going to pick up a book, no matter how interesting the yarn, I have two suggestions for those who are not in the habit of reading books.

My first suggestion is the New York Times, which students can access daily at at no cost. I like this paper for students, because reporters write on everything from the Arts to Zymurgy (the branch of chemistry that deals with fermentation – the art of brewing). A story a day would be good.

The paper’s sports page is a cut above most, and the caliber of writing is right for the SATs. Try me out, read the sports page for a day and see how many words you have to look up. A lot of words that appear in the daily stories and even in the headlines appear on the SATs.  Just an article a day, not the whole paper, no one has time for that.

The next place to go is an electronic page called Arts & Letters Daily, a Service of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is at It’s an astonishing page with hundreds of links that come under the headings of New Books, Essays, Opinions, Magazines, Book Reviews, Columnists, and an inexhaustible list of links to periodicals written in English from the world over.

What follows in italicized type are the introductions to some of the articles and essays that were posted the other day and are just a click away.

Voltaire’s Candide, Newton’s theory of gravity, indeed, this very page: all fueled by coffeeD.H. Lawrence said you must have “something vicious in you” to be a writer – perhaps a splinter of ice in your heart. Imagine marrying one The shocking thing about China’s nuclear arsenal is that it is about the same size that it was a decade ago Constants of the universe are a tantalizing mystery. Why do they exist at all? They pose physics’ grandest question Students, here’s how to get to the top of the class: study, study, study. And if that doesn’t work, then sueGeeky teen Joel Clark, fingers flying over the keyboard, sits at his computer and goes for the kill. This is no video gameMathematicians move around in a reality parallel to the rest of us: they see numbers where we see words, equations where we see poetry South Park is a vulgar, coarse, and fully offensive television program. So why are so many political conservatives tuning into it?

There’s bound to be an article or an essay for your kid at Arts & Letters Daily. The more reading they do the better equipped they’ll be for the The Test.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at