Friday, May 25, 2012

Jeffrey Mirel comments on the Condition of Education report with an historical perspective

Tags: digital signage, educational studies, k-12, mirel

On May 24, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released its annual "The Condition of Education" report that summarizes developments and trends in education. This year's report shows a decrease in days missed by high school students, an increase in the percentage of students taking math and science classes  (comparing student course-taking in 2009 with 1990 activity), and fewer high school students who are employed. An article in the May 24, 2012, Education Week, summarizes the trends as "U.S. Students Get Serious about High School."

There is some thought that the economic context makes it harder for teenagers to find work as they are competing with out of work adults with greater experience. Jeffrey Mirel is quoted in the article, saying "Being in high school is a lot better than hanging out somewhere trying to get a job when you are competing against adults with families."

A historian, Mirel is able to compare the contemporary data with earlier periods, including the Great Depression:

"If they are taking courses with genuine academic rigor, that is something to be very pleased about," Mr. Mirel said. It suggests "we are responding to the Great Recession in a better way than educators responded to the Great Depression."

In the years of the Great Depression, schools likewise saw a suden increase in the number of students, including  the poor and immigrants, remaining in high school, according to Mr. Mirel, a co-author with David Angus of the 1999 book The Failed Promise of the American High School, 1890-1995. The rate of students staying in high school rose from around 50 percent to 74 percent before and after 1940, but in response, states reduced the rigor of the curricula, he found, replacing college-preparatory courses like calculus with "general math."

The Education Week story is available to subscribers or can be purchased from the Education Week website.

Nancy Songer also commented on the report in a May 24, 2012, Associated Press story.


Jeffrey Mirel is the David L. Angus Collegiate Chair, School of Education; and professor, Department of History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

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