This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. As many school districts in our area are closing out another school year, we need to do more than thank our teachers for their work with our children. We need to congratulate them for more than a decade of academic improvement in our valley schools and across the nation. Public education is on the rise thanks to the dedication and commitment of our teachers and they are deserving of our respect and gratitude.
According to the Center on Education Policy, student achievement in reading and math has improved since 2002. In addition, achievement gaps among groups of students have narrowed. The study attributed the rise to efforts by American educators to raise academic achievement.
Student achievement is up on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the most widely recognized national assessment tool.
Despite the prevailing myth that public schools are on the decline, the nation's public schools continue to outperform private and charter schools. In 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics found that public school students do as well as or better than their private school and charter school counterparts. These findings extended to students from low-income families. Among students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, public school 4th graders outperformed their charter school counterparts in reading and math. Additionally, the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University found that charter school performance in Pennsylvania lagged in growth compared to traditional public schools.
More students are prepared for college than any time in the past. The percentage of public school graduates achieving a grade of "3" or better on the Advanced Placement exam nearly doubled in the last decade, growing from 10 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2011. A score of "3" on the college-level exam is considered predictive of college success. In addition, 19.5 percent of 2012 high school graduates completed at least one AP Exam compared to only 11.6 percent in 2002. Students are completing a more rigorous and challenging curriculum. The percentage of high school graduates completing advanced coursework (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or honors) is up in all content areas. High school graduates are enrolling in college at record rates. Between 1975 and 2010, the percentage of students enrolling in college immediately after high school grew from 49 percent to 68 percent, a trend that held for white students, black students and Hispanic students.
Dropout rates are falling, and more students are graduating in four years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the annual high school dropout rate fell from 6.1 percent in 1972 to 3.4 percent in 2009. Between 2005 and 2011, there was an 11 percent reduction in the rate of students not graduating from high school in four years.
Many of our Valley schools have been recognized over the past decade for academic excellence including national blue ribbon schools, silver and bronze medal winning high schools, top performances on state PSSA exams, and some of the highest SAT scores in the state. Public education is critical to the future of our children and serves as a bastion of equity and opportunity for every child that enters our doors. We are fortunate to have many dedicated educators that go to school each day and make a positive difference in the lives of children.
I ask the greater community to join me in thanking our teachers for performing some of the most important work in our nation, educating our children and securing the cornerstone of our democracy.
n Dr. Mark D. DiRocco is superintendent of the Lewisburg Area School District