Will students rise to the challenge of higher standards in education? A new study says they want to be challenged.


Director of Communications

By Margarita Mayo

In business we must listen to our customers or we eventually go out of business. Education has customers too--the most important of whom are the students. Their voice was captured in a Public Agenda Foundation report called Getting By: What American Teenagers Really Think About their Schools.

It turned out to be a voice very much worth listening to, with a message that will surprise many people.

As we raise education standards in New York States schools, many fear that we will simply increase the dropout rate, because students wont work harder.

But in its study probing the views of over 1,300 American teenagers from all walks of life and racial and ethnic groups, the Public Agenda Foundation learned some things that are surprisingly encouraging:

  • Most teenagers believe that "getting an education" is important to their lives.
  • Contrary to popular belief, they would like to do well in school, and youngsters across the board--white, African-American, and Hispanic--say they admire, rather than look down on, classmates who make good grades.
  • Despite broad concern among educators about lagging student interest in school, an astonishing 96 percent of public high school students say doing well in school makes them feel good about themselves--a finding that is equally valid among white (96 percent), African-American (97 percent) and Hispanic (96 percent) teenagers.
  • Also, surprisingly, high school students are more likely than their teachers to consider academic accomplishments the primary path to success. Only 21 percent of teachers say a strong academic background is the chief ingredient in success--versus 32 percent of teens.

Teenagers support the call for higher academic standards and they think all students should have to meet them. They also say that its possible today to get good or adequate grades without much effort, and most admit that they do not put as uch effort into their studies as they could.

Three-quarters of the teenagers (76 percent) say students should not be allowed to graduate unless they demonstrate a good command of the English language. Seventy-four percent say schools should only pass students to the next grade when they have learned whats expected of them.

Seventy-five percent say most will pay more attention to their school work, and 73 percent say they will actually learn more, if standards are raised and consistently enforced.

Nor do students think standards should be eased for youngsters with disadvantages. Eighty-four percent say schools should set the same standards for students from inner-city areas as they do for middle-class students. On this and other standards questions white, African-American and Hispanic teenagers hold the same views.

As New York States standards kick in, it would be well for everybody involved--educators, and business people who are committed to a better educational system--to remember the voices of these primary customers.

Kids want quality education, and theyre willing to work for it. If we do our part, we can count on them to do theirs.