The State Scholars Initiative, an alliance between educators and the business community, is challenging high school students to master a set of academically rigorous courses that will better prepare them to succeed in college, in the workplace and in life. This is a simple, low-cost, high-impact approach to motivating high school students to take rigorous coursework, but, as the record shows, it works.
In community after community -- urban, suburban and rural -- the State Scholars Initiative is doubling and tripling the rate of completion in lab science and higher math courses. In the Houston Independent School District, where almost 80 percent of the children are economically disadvantaged, the Initiative helped increase the number of students completing a defined set of rigorous courses from 18 percent of graduates in 1999 to 70 percent of graduates in 2003. In tiny Graham, Texas, population 9,000, the percentage of students qualifying as Scholars rose from 11 percent in 1999 to 75 percent of the Class of 2002. Scores on standardized tests rose, too.
The key ingredient was business people taking a lead role in drawing a clear picture of the opportunities that await young people who work hard and complete the right courses in high school. Armed with facts and a roadmap, kids started signing up for tougher courses, sometimes despite the apprehensions of parents and teachers, and applying themselves to more intensive studies instead of throwing away their senior years.
Their success bred higher expectations. More business people volunteered, more parents and teachers provided encouragement, more students signed on the dotted line, and now the very culture in participating high schools is changed in remarkable ways.
It is incumbent on our industry, where customer expectations are set especially high, to foster a culture of achievement among as many students as possible, from as diverse a population as possible. Only if we make sure that all U.S. high school students complete a rigorous sequence of courses will America be guaranteed to have the imagination and intellectual firepower needed to anticipate and solve customer problems and inspire progress. We need to encourage all students to set their sights high and complete at the very least math through Algebra 2, the three lab sciences -- biology, chemistry and physics -- four years of English and two years of a language other than English.
Student discipline and self-esteem that derive from heightened expectations will not only provide businesses with better-prepared workers, but more important, will give students the tools they need to enjoy more fulfilling careers and lives. They will be less likely to require costly remediation and more likely to be productive citizens who contribute to our companies, our communities and the broader economy. The investment we make in encouraging students to acquire a solid academic foundation during high school pays incalculable dividends.