Arizona Republic
August 30, 2006

Author: DAVID HOWELL, Special for The Republic Estimated printed pages: 2

The public service announcement used to ask, "Do you know where your teenager is right now?"

I'd suggest a revision is in order, not that parents still shouldn't keep very close tabs on what their children are doing and with whom they are doing it. But today there is an additional question to ask: "Do you know what classes your teenager is taking at school this year?"

In 1950 you could drop out of high school and still be reasonably confident you could find a decent job, one that would pay enough to support you and a family. Most jobs in the United States could be had with a high school education or less.

And there's a fair chance, if you performed well, the company that hired you then would be the one from which you would retire decades later.

That's not today's world. In the global economy of the 21st century, the percentage of jobs for those with little education and limited skills has dwindled to an astonishingly small number. Those jobs don't pay well; frankly, they shouldn't. The last thing we need for our young people today is a system that encourages them to discontinue their education and go to work.

So what does this have to do with knowing what classes your children are taking in high school (and earlier)? The answer is "everything."

The data are very clear. Students who take the minimum required to graduate from high school are much less likely to succeed either in higher education or the workforce. Bottom line: The decisions made as a teenager on what courses to take -- and how hard to work at those harder courses -- can either pave the way for success or condemn the student to a very limited future.

Parents who let their teens slide by with doing nothing but the minimum share the blame. Even if that's what worked for them, it won't work for their children or grandchildren.

In Arizona you can graduate from high school with only two years of math and two of science. No foreign language is required. Not surprisingly, it takes much more to qualify to attend one of Arizona's state universities. They insist on four years of math and three of science, plus two of a language other than English.

But these days what the universities ask for isn't that much more than what almost any decent job requires. Math skills (and this means algebra and geometry, not just arithmetic) are at the core of every job involving technology, and almost every job today involves technology in some way.

This is one of those problems that is totally solvable. The more rigorous curriculum is already in place in every high school in Arizona. The harder classes are there for the taking. And those K-8 skills can be pushed to make sure the eighth-graders are ready when they reach Grade 9.

All that needs to happen is for parents and the rest of us to use every carrot and stick we can find to make sure our kids challenge themselves and take that tougher path.

If we demand it, it will happen. In the end, the payoff will be well worth it for all of us.

David Howell has been a Valley resident since 1986. He can be reached at
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Surprise Republic
Page: 26