they reach young adulthood. In 1990, 12 percent of all 16 to 24 year olds had dropped out of school prior to attaining a high school degree, down from 15 percent in 1970. Moreover, the large disparity in school dropout rates between white and black youths was reduced by 73 percent over this period. The proportion of black youth who failed to complete high school fell by over 50 percent—from 28 to 13 percent—while the proportion of white youth ages 16 to 24 who neither were attending nor had completed school declined from 13 to 9 percent. In part, this trend toward higher high school completion rates reflects the institution of alternative educational opportunities within the regular secondary education system and through alternative credentialing options, principally the General Educational Development (GED) certificate. 2

Despite mounting evidence that many of today's youth are not well prepared for the demands of our changing economy, the educational achievement of young people has been fairly steady over the past 20 years. Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, has been fairly stable among all age groups. Moreover, there has been some improvement in math and science performance by children from lower socioeconomic groups relative to other students (NCES, 1994, Tables 12–18).3 Although there has been considerable concern about declining average scores on the SAT (Haveman and Wolfe, 1994), the average performance remained stable or increased slightly among all racial/ethnic groups, except whites (Table 8.1). What has driven the trends in averages is primarily a shift in the composition of the population taking the SAT. Over the past 20 years, increasing proportions of youth from minority racial/ethnic groups, who have substantially lower average scores than white youth, have entered the pool of test-takers.

Perhaps the most encouraging trend has been the increasing rates of participation in postsecondary education, especially in the past 10 years. Between 1980 and 1990, the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college, including two-year community colleges and vocational schools, increased 22 percent from 49 to 60 percent (Table 8.1). This increase is especially noteworthy given the strong association between postsecondary education and improved economic opportunities and the ability to better handle adverse social outcomes (Haveman and Wolfe, 1994; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994).

Increased Educational Investments and Attention to School Improvement

Over this same period, the proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to education has fluctuated between 6.5 percent and 7.8 percent, with the low point being in the mid-1980s (NCES, 1993a, Table 33). The share of the

2  

In 1990, 287,000 youths under the age of 24 earned a GED, compared with only 182,000 in 1970 (NCES, 1993a, Table 100).

3  

Average proficiency scores of children whose parents did not complete high school lag 10 to 15 percent below those of children whose parents completed more than high school (NCES, 1994).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement