Despite 15 years of real progress in raising US high school graduation rates, 17 percent of students are still not graduating with their class, and another 17 percent are graduating but are not prepared for postsecondary school. This means that for this third of students—most of whom are low-income or minority children—the education system is not working. This deficiency has deep consequences for their communities and for the nation, as most jobs that can support a family require a high school degree and some postsecondary schooling. This reality puts us at a crossroads: We can either strengthen the public-education system or begin to walk away from it toward private solutions.
Given that a vast majority of American children rely on public education to obtain a foundation for future success, strengthening the system is the smartest way forward. A little-noticed provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the new federal law that gives states more freedom to set their own agendas for improving the education outcomes of low-income and minority children—presents a strong path for strengthening public schooling.