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The performance gap

  In private, educators have long conceded that many students who earn a high school diploma in New York are not prepared for college. But until now, it has been hard to measure the gap.

  That changed this week with the release of data from a study conducted for the Board of Regents. It shows that roughly 41 percent of all public high school students leave ready for college or a career, compared with a statewide graduation rate of nearly 77 percent-a 36-point gap.

  In the Rochester City School District, the numbers are even worse: Only 5.1 percent are prepared for college or a career, compared with a 46.6 percent graduation rate.

  Student performance is a problem whose scope is bigger than Rochester or even New York. This fact was made clear recently when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris released its latest Program for International Student Assessment test results.

  The test was administered to more than 5,000 15-year-old students in 65 countries. China took part in the international standardized tests for the first time-and in all three categories (reading, science and math), students from Shanghai ranked No. 1.

  How did the U.S. students fare? In reading, they placed 17th; in science, 23rd; and in math, 31st.

  President Barack Obama, in a speech delivered the day the PISA scores were made public, described this as "our generation’s Sputnik moment" and said, "we’ve got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth."

  Some observers have suggested the international standardized test scores actually are less disturbing than they appear at first glance. Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson, for example, suggests that "the stubbornly low test scores of blacks and Hispanics" largely explain the difference between U.S. scores and those of countries that ranked higher, most of which have "ethnic and racial compositions (that) are more homogeneous than ours."

  His point: The root problem may be societal, a legacy of a culture of poverty, not educational.

He may be right, to a point. But our public schools can-and must-do a better job of preparing students for college and a productive life outside the classroom.

2/11/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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