Why High School?

Done right, we know high school can launch young people into productive and fulfilling lives.

By Russlynn Ali

At XQ, we believe deeply in the power of public education.

As the world becomes more uncertain and complex than ever before, we believe public schools have a critical role to play — ensuring that, no matter who you are or where you come from, you are prepared. Prepared for college. Prepared for work. Prepared for the future. And while our country has placed a lot of attention on preschool and kindergarten, we know focusing on the earliest grades isn’t enough. Across the nation, there are millions of teens and preteens waiting for an opportunity to realize their potential. And we can’t afford to give up on them. That’s why XQ focuses on high school. Done right, we know high school can launch young people into productive and fulfilling lives.

We’ve Fallen Behind

But here’s the thing: For far too many students, American high schools are not working well. In fact, while 95 percent of American ninth-graders want to go to college, one out of six students doesn’t even make it to high school graduation. And among those who do, nearly half haven’t taken all of the coursework required to get into college.

Meanwhile, our high schools are struggling to keep up with an ever-changing world. By 2020, it’s projected that 5 million job openings will go unfilled because they lack qualified applicants. At the same time, growing economic inequality is tearing at the fabric of our society, undermining the long-held belief that the next generation of Americans will do better than their parents did.

“We Want to Be Seen and Heard”

When we talk to high school students today, we hear the same things over and over again. “School is boring.” “What we’re learning isn’t relevant.” “We want to work on real-world issues.” “We want to be seen and heard.”

And in many ways, what they’re saying is not surprising. After all, over the last hundred years, nearly everything about our country and our society has changed. But our high schools look pretty much like they did when our parents and grandparents attended them.

Truly Transformational Change

No matter how we think about this — whether it’s through the lens of the young people themselves or the future of our country — one thing is clear: Instead of incremental improvements, we need bold change to prepare every child for the challenges they face in the 21st century.

Young people need to be nimble thinkers and learners who can draw on strong academic and social skills to work with others to solve complex problems. They need to be ready for jobs that demand higher-level skills and require them to continuously learn and grow as adults. They need to be prepared to play an active, informed part in our democracy.

And high school is not too late to meet those needs. Research now shows that adolescence is a pivotal phase for brain development, making it an optimal time to help young people shape their intelligence, identity, and personality.

The good news is that the kind of transformative change our high schools need is not only possible, it’s already happening in communities across the country. These are places where students, parents, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and many others have come together to imagine, create, and support their visions for the high schools of the future — high schools where students are developing the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for the lives they want to lead.

It’s time for all of us to rethink high school. You can start here.