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A quarter-century ago, the nation was transfixed by the question, Where’s the beef?

Now, the question we should be asking ourselves about our nation’s schools is, Where’s the rigor?

Or, Where’s the academic beef?

Concerns about the lack of rigor in U.S. schools were renewed yesterday, when new data were published on how prepared — or not — U.S. high school students are for college. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephanie Banchero said, “New data show that fewer than 25% of 2010 graduates who took the ACT college-entrance exam possessed the academic skills necessary to pass entry-level [college] courses.”

The story, as reported by many outlets, was that the average ACT score has fallen slightly since 2007. But the real story — and the one that Banchero focused on – is that the vast majority of our high school graduates aren’t ready for college or a career. And this holds true even when they follow a supposedly “rigorous” course of study, taking four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.

It turns out that much of what U.S. schools now offer is “rigorous” in name only. Said differently, a distinct lack of academic rigor is de rigueur.

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Justin Snider is a contributing editor at The Hechinger Report. He is an assistant dean at Columbia University, where he also teaches undergraduate writing. Previously, Snider taught high-school English...

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