Educational Challenges in the United States of America

Written by Dimitrios Chasouras & Jimena Villot Lopez 


The United States of America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a GDP of $25 trillion as of 2022.i However, as of 2020, the expenditure on education was 12.7% of the total government spending that year.ii This fiscal allocation shows the funding system of schools in the US, where the financial support is divided between government revenue and local resources, which bind school budgets to their respective districts. This funding model creates a large divide in the educational opportunities available to students. Schools in wealthier areas, with low-poverty percentages, benefit from significantly higher spending per student, in contrast with those in economically disadvantaged areas, which have lower budgets available. The effects of this gap regarding education are increasingly evident in students’ lives and school performance.

Another issue dealt with in this article is the constant presence of gun violence cases in schools, which is another of the biggest challenges faced by educational institutions in the United States. The addition of resource limitations and security concerns posed by gun violence cause a multifaceted threat to the well-being and safety of students all over the country. Both issues will be discussed separately, dealing with the complexities which surround the problem, along with potential measures to rectify them, or at least try to do so. It is important to remember that education is vital in a child’s development, and therefore it is paramount that these issues are taken seriously. Additionally, attention by government and local authorities is necessary to take into action comprehensive strategies (such as financial plans, security measures, and mental health support) to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic background.

Gun violence and consequences in schools

With around 50% of American households having at least one registered firearm and an exponential increase in gun manufacturing,iii gun violence incidents have been increasing drastically in the last couple of years, within households and publicly, including school premises. Incidents include suicides, assaults and school shooting, which has led to firearms being the leading cause of death among children and teens. 76% of school shootings have occurred by students who acquired guns from either their own households or relatives.iv Compared to other high-income countries, children between the age of 5-14 years old are 21 times more likely to be shot, while teens between 15-24 are 23 times more likely.v Additionally, around 4,000 children and teens (ages 0-19) are shot and killed annually, while 15,000 are wounded by firearms, totalling up to an average of 53 children being shot a day. Those statistics clearly outline a serious problem that plagues US adults and minors in their everyday lives. Gun violence incidents have long-lasting effects not just on the direct victims but the victims’ friends, family, and witnesses as well. Survivors of gun violence have to battle a multitude of psychological and mental issues, such as fear of death and PTSDvi which can lead to violent behaviour and abuse of drugs/alcohol.

To combat gun violence on school campuses, certain states have applied legislation permitting authorised gun possession on campus, even mandatory.vii Schools, colleges, and universities still have the final judgement on gun safety laws (e.g., authorised gun possession by school staff), but due to the increasing number of incidents, statehouses continue to promote such policies. Most attempts to decrease shootings in schools have been reactive, with other examples including eye-catching graphics, involvement and mentoring of adults and peers.viii Out of all, the one that has been suggested the most is community-based solutions, as they tend to be more tailored to the issues the state, school or district faces. Unfortunately, certain districts are unable to carry out such programs due to a lack of funding.

The outcomes of the above-mentioned policies and programs have not caused much change in gun violence incidents, and most students feel increasingly threatened and intimidated.ix Schools that have introduced gun safety programs or authorised gun possession or the presence of law enforcement have been burdened with additional financial costs that they are unable to pay. At the same time, students who go through shooter drills suffer from more depression, stress, anxiety, and the fear of death.

Some researchers suggest that stricter gun laws have opposite effects than the ones mentioned, for example, a decrease in the probability of missing a school day due to feeling unsafe, students carrying a weapon on campus, and students getting injured.x

The challenges of gun violence and the proposed solutions statistically have a disproportionate impact on students based on ethnic backgrounds.xi More specifically, black teens are 17 times more likely to die by homicide and 13 times more likely to be hospitalised for firearm assault compared to white teens, as well as Latinx, who are 2.7 times more likely to die by homicide.xii Such statistics are true even within the same states and cities, which creates unequal challenges for certain students compared to others. Policy decisions in place and disinvestments in certain parts of cities have left African-American and Latinx communities with a struggle to implement the above programs or counsel victims due to lack of resources, poverty and unemployment, which has led to an increase in gun violence in the last few years.xiii

Graph from CDC, Wonder.

Even when gun safety laws are implemented, African-American students tend to feel more threatened by the presence of guns and law enforcement on campus compared to others.xiv White students, although less likely to die of gun violence, have a higher risk of committing suicide when guns are in their household and/or on campus. Evidently, gun violence has created challenges for students across America, but different communities and ethnic groups differ in the type and extent of threat they perceive and experience. This has impacted overall school performance regarding attendance, test scores, graduation rates, feeling of safety, and perceived threat.

Consequences of lack of funding on the learning process

Teachers march in protest for education funding in Los Angeles. Photo by LaTerrian McIntosh on Unsplash

Since the 1800s in the United States, public schools have been primarily funded through local and state sources, the primary source of local funding being property taxes from individual community school districtsxv. This means that the money used to fund a school in a certain district comes from the property taxes paid by the owners of the houses in that same district. The advantage of this is that it ensures local control, which means the budget is allocated according to the specific needs and priorities of the schools in each district, however, it also has disadvantages.

Education funding largely depends on property taxes, resulting in disparities between schools in wealthy and disadvantaged areas. This funding model has left many schools struggling to provide the resources and opportunities that students need. Schools in wealthier neighbourhoods, or even those which have less low-income students attending, receive significantly more funding per student than those in high-poverty areas, with a more considerable number of low-income students. For example, as of 2020 in Illinois, Golfview Elementary School served 550 students, where 86% of them are considered low-income. On the other hand, Algonquin Lakes Elementary had 425 students, with reportedly less than 50% of them being low-income, and Algonquin received over $2,000 more than Golfview per student a yearxvi. This will mean that the educational needs of children in Algonquin have a higher likelihood of being met, improving their educational experience while leaving Golfview students with significant disadvantages.

Another one of the consequences of the funding disparities in the different areas is the inadequate compensation that educators receive in schools. To make ends meet, many teachers find themselves working multiple jobs. The demand for a higher livable wage is growing louder because committed educators need to be able to devote all of their energy to their work rather than worrying about their financial stability. It goes beyond just fair compensation.

Teacher shortages are causing larger problems in public schools. Wealthier schools, with students coming from high-income families, tend to hire more experienced, qualified teachers, which in turn costs more money. Since the pandemic, schools have been struggling to hire qualified teachers, and most of the low-income schools could not afford the salaries of experienced teachers, which has lowered the pool of potential applicants for teaching positions immenselyxvii. Due to this, some states have started making credential requirements lower, allowing for non-certified teachers to take over the vacant teaching positions, which affects children’s education. Christopher Blair, the former superintendent of Bullock County, Alabama, was quoted in 2022 stating that “when you have uncertified, emergency or inexperienced teachers, students are in classrooms where they are not going to get the level of rigour and classroom experiences.”xviii

The consequences of this shortage extend to overcrowded classrooms, which makes it difficult for teachers to provide individualised attention and support to students. In 2022, CNN went to a school outside of Phoenix where a teacher reported having to teach over 70 students in her biology classxix. This has negative consequences for the students, as it gets in the way of individualised attention, but also for the teacher, as it can cause burnout and stress to have to focus on so many students at one time. Furthermore, outdated textbooks and inadequate classroom supplies remain a prevalent issue in underfunded schools.

As can be seen from the previous analysis, the funding model for public schools has created a severe divide in the quality of education received by students all over the country. It offers advantages, such as local control and a constant revenue source for the communities; however, the disadvantages are more significant. Schools in wealthier areas or those with fewer low-income students receive substantially more funding per student than those in high-poverty regions. This financial discrepancy leads to unequal access to resources and opportunities, perpetuating educational inequalities.

Another pressing issue that arises from the lack of funding is inadequate compensation for teachers, which means they are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, hindering their ability to focus all their energy on teaching. This will mean that fewer of the most experienced teachers will choose to work in such circumstances and only choose the wealthier schools or get jobs in other fields. This means that schools with a more significant number of high-poverty students will struggle to maintain qualified teachers. Along with overcrowding of classrooms, outdated textbooks and inadequate supplies, these issues collectively pose a severe challenge to students’ educations in United States public schools. Bridging the funding gaps and addressing teacher shortages are imperative steps toward ensuring that every child has access to a quality education, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

In fact, researchers have debated the value of increasing educational funding. However, recent research has found that when funding is directed towards high-poverty schools, and this money is used for important purposes, such as experienced teachers, social workers, or programs to address students’ academic needs, it can greatly boost student successxx


It can be considered that gun violence and funding disparities in schools are interrelated issues in terms of hindering students’ education for several reasons. Firstly, when schools do not have the necessary budget to afford to hire the necessary staff, such as educators, it can also mean no security staff to control who is able to go in and out of the school. However, this may also include social workers, school psychologists and staff designed to support the students and aid their mental health protection after dangerous situations which may occur. Additionally, in the first section, it was discussed how one of the discussed methods to protect against gun violence in schools was considering arming teachers with weapons in case of emergency. This can be damaging for several reasons, as it may create an unsafe environment for children at school and, at the same time, may discourage teachers from working at schools in which they have to carry guns for protection.

This is also related to district division because community and socioeconomic factors may indirectly affect the safety of the schools. Schools in economically disadvantaged districts or neighbourhoods may face additional challenges, including higher crime rates and exposure to community violence.

It’s important to emphasise that educational funding and division of resources may play a role in addressing school safety and gun violence; however, it is only part of the solution to the problem. Some other strategies to prevent gun violence include the support of mental health by advisors or counsellors in schools, anti-bullying efforts and community engagement. Additionally, whether locally or regionally, district leaders and politicians must address the underlying factors which may lead individuals to resort to violence and adopt responsible gun control measures.

Education is one of the most important elements of a child’s development, and measures which hinder or impede an appropriate education for students in public schools must be addressed. Ensuring a safe and secure school environment is a complex challenge, and it requires serious commitment all over the country.


i World Bank Data (2023) GDP (current US$) – United States. The World Bank.

ii World Bank Data (2023) United States. The World Bank.

iii Mitchell, T. (June 2017). The demographics of gun ownership in the U.S. Pew Research Center.

iv Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (July 2023). How can we prevent gun violence in American schools? Everytown Research & Policy.

v Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (May 2019). The impact of gun violence on children and teens. Everytown Research & Policy.

vi ibid.

vii RAND. (2020, April). The effects of laws allowing armed staff in K–12 schools. RAND Corporation.

viii OJJDP. (n.d.). Section VII: Education Initiatives and Alternative Prevention Strategies. (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Report)

ix Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (2020, December). The danger of guns on campus. Everytown Research & Policy.

x Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (May 2019). The impact of gun violence on children and teens. Everytown Research & Policy.

xi Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (July 2023). How can we prevent gun violence in American schools? Everytown Research & Policy.

xii Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (May 2019). The impact of gun violence on children and teens. Everytown Research & Policy.

xiii ibid.

xiv Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (2020, December). The danger of guns on campus. Everytown Research & Policy.

xvFindLaw Team (June 2016) Education Funding: State and Local Sources. FindLaw. https://www/

xvi Mathewson T.G (October 2020) New data: Even within the same district, some wealthy schools get millions more than poor ones (The Hechinger Report).

xvii Richman, T & Crain, T.P (October 2022) Uncertified teachers filling holes in schools across the South (The Hechinger Report).

xviii Lurye, S & Griesbach, R (September 2022) Teacher shortages are real, but not for the reason you heard (The Hechinger Report).

xix Wolf, Z.B (September 2022) Crises converge on American Education (CNN Politics).

xxMathewson T.G (October 2020) New data: Even within the same district, some wealthy schools get millions more than poor ones (The Hechinger Report).

Educational Challenges in Puerto Rico

Written By Samantha Orozco and John Whitlock

Historic background

Puerto Rico is located northeast of the Caribbean Sea and is considered one of the Greater Antilles. Its location boasts beautiful beaches and landscapes but is also prone to hurricanes and other natural hazards that have severely affected its residents. Puerto Rico’s official language is Spanish and it is home to a diverse and multicultural population, with most of its inhabitants of Puerto Rican descent and a significant community of African, European, and Latin American ancestry.

After the Spanish-American War, the United States (US) officially annexed the then Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines in December 1898, initially subjecting Puerto Rico to rule by the US military and a governor appointed by the President. In 1917, the US Congress voted to grant Puerto Ricans official citizenship status, while still denying them the representative rights that usually accompany full citizenship. The island’s inhabitants could not elect their own governor until 1947.

To this day, Puerto Ricans are not able to participate in US elections, have no voting representation within the US Congress, and do not hold the right to “equal treatment” in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. The island is now an “unincorporated territory” with “quasi-colonial” status, according to former Puerto Rican high school teacher and US Secretary of Education John King.  This causes serious consequences in the education system due to limited support from the US federal government and the unfortunate impact of natural hazards, the negative and systematic effects of which have not been adequately addressed.

Education System Overview

The Puerto Rican education system is roughly based on the American model. School attendance is mandatory from ages 6 to 18, and divided into six years of elementary education, three years of junior high school, and three years of high school. Academic calendars and grading scales are very similar to their US equivalents. After numerous failed attempts by the US to convert the Puerto Rican education system to English, Spanish has remained the language in which public schools operate. The high school diploma is known as the “Diploma de Escuela Superior” a literal translation from its mainland English counterpart. 

A key difference between challenges to the Puerto Rican school system and the mainland US system is the percentage of children experiencing poverty. According to the Census, 44% of Puerto Ricans live in poverty. Whereas 17% of children live below the poverty line in the US, this percentage is at 55% in Puerto Rico and even higher in rural areas. In 2017, a quarter of Puerto Rican children did not have access to the internet and half did not have access to a home computer.

Today, those who do have a home computer may have unreliable power due to damages to the electrical grid caused by disasters and mismanagement. High school drop-out rates are much higher on the island, especially from households with lower incomes: according to the U.S. Department of Education, the dropout rate among high school students is one-third, which is more than twice the current percentage in mainland US. In 2015, the secondary education net enrollment rate was 66.6% as opposed to 80.5% in mainland US.

This data was published in 2009-2010, which is the most recent information available due to the limited production of up-to-date statistics by the local government. Moreover, federal counts frequently omit Puerto Rico from their calculations. It is likely that the dropout rate in Puerto Rico has likely increased even further since, as hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the situation. For those students who graduate high school, outcomes are not equal to those on the mainland US.

According to the Youth Development Institute of Puerto Rico, 51% of high school graduates pursue university education, whereas 67% of suburban Americans and 63% of rural and urban Americans attend college. Many Puerto Rican graduates who are able to attend college come from privileged backgrounds which enable them to attend private schools and hire college application consultants.

This is in line with the islands’ rank as the third-highest income-unequal in the world, following South Africa and Zambia. Additionally, it is particularly difficult for Puerto Rican students to pursue a college education in the mainland US. As US and Puerto Rican high school graduation tests are not harmonized, Puerto Rican high school students are required to take a Spanish language test that nearly no US mainland universities consider valid. Initially aimed to create a standardized college admissions test for the Spanish-speaking world and implemented for a trial run in Puerto Rico, this test was never expanded beyond.  Because of this, and underfunding, most public high school guidance counselors in Puerto Rico do not have knowledge of mainland admission requirements and cannot help students in that way.  

In the last year of reported data, “only 694 high school graduates from all of Puerto Rico went to college on the mainland or abroad in 2016. That’s about 2 percent. The island’s population is 3.2 million, according to the Census Bureau.” 

A positive aspect of the Puerto Rican education system is that the University of Puerto Rico is more accessible and affordable than comparable universities in the mainland US where the average tuition at a public institution is $25,707 per year (for students with family residence in the state) or $44,014 per year (for students without family residence in the state). In comparison, students at the University of Puerto Rico pay $4,366 in tuition in-state, and $8,712 out-of-state. However, according to advocacy group Excelencia in Education, less than half of students who enroll in Puerto Rican universities earn degrees after six years, compared to the US mainland where 58 percent of college students graduate. 

Natural hazards in Puerto Rico

Natural hazards have wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico for many years. Despite being aware of this situation, efforts to mitigate the damage have not been effectively implemented and disaster has been the result. Most of the resources allocated for education are used for repairing school infrastructure, but they remain insufficient.

A clear example of this is the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which struck in 2017 and six years later still affects the territory. Maria severely impacted access to education in Puerto Rico and exposed deficiencies in both the state and institutional aspects of the system. There was an inability to respond to emergencies and a lack of efficiency in seeking solutions that would allow the population to continue their education.

At the time, according to a report made by Kavitha Cardoza (2023), the damage caused by Maria led to the closure of many schools due to infrastructure problems, leaving thousands of students with no opportunity to continue their studies and resulting in a high dropout rate. This created a vicious cycle, as student attrition reduced enrollment, which in turn led to the closure of schools that did not have enough students to operate.

In addition to hurricanes and floods, Puerto Rico has also experienced earthquakes. In 2020, a series of earthquakes contributed to the destruction of the already precarious school infrastructure. Just as the system was trying to recover from the ravages of Maria, it had to face the closure of schools for three months while engineers verified the safety of those still in operation. The most recent natural catastrophe in Puerto Rico was recorded in September 2022 when Hurricane Fiona struck the island, causing damage to infrastructure and the temporary closure of the few schools that were still functioning.

An aerial view of the damage left behind after Hurricane Maria is seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk helicopter as AMO agents respond to the humanitarian needs of the people of Puerto Rico October 2, 2017. Photo by Mani Albrecht via Flickr

Bureaucracy and abandonment

Despite its status as an incorporated territory in the United States, discussions about Puerto Rico’s true status and the ongoing debate about its future, whether to be considered a state or attain independence, have not ceased. The only certainty thus far is that Puerto Rican residents are not considered equal to citizens of the U.S. mainland.

The Puerto Rican educational system faces challenges ranging from insufficient investment to talent migration and disparities in educational opportunities. In theory, Puerto Rico has autonomy in managing its resources. However, for many important decisions, authorities find themselves dependent on aid from the federal government.  Due to the implementation of PROMESA, an act passed by the Obama administration in 2016, an unelected Financial Management and Oversight Board makes all decisions about how funding is used in Puerto Rico.  “The FMOB has proposed an array of measures to “shock the system” into growth”.

These measures include but are not limited: to wage controls, reduction in government services, closing public schools, cuts to the University of Puerto Rico, over 100 percent increases in university tuition and other fees, laying off thousands of public employees, furloughing public employees of two days per month, and cuts of 10 percent from pensions of retired workers. Puerto Rico heavily relies on federal funds to maintain and improve the quality of education, and this insufficient investment has led to a lack of resources and deteriorated infrastructure in many schools. For the start of the 2023-2024 school year, it is estimated that 588 out of the 856 functioning schools opened with infrastructure damage, meaning that 69% of schools are still not in optimal conditions to receive students.

The migration of students and educational professionals to the U.S. mainland has been an additional challenge. The pursuit of better economic opportunities on the mainland has resulted in a decrease in school enrollment in Puerto Rico and a loss of talent in the classrooms. This trend negatively impacts schools and, ultimately, the quality of education provided on the island. This is compounded by poor working conditions for educational staff as well as a lack of investment in the professionalization and training of teachers.

The lack of equal educational opportunities is another critical issue. The fact that Puerto Ricans do not have access to the same resources and educational programs as other United States citizens has led to significant disparities in access to quality education, perpetuating inequality. This is evident in the exclusion of standardized test results in Puerto Rico from national compilation. The implementation of federally imposed educational standards and standardized assessments does not always consider the peculiarities of Puerto Rico’s educational system. This can lead to unfair assessments and the imposition of inappropriate measures that do not adapt to the island’s reality. Special education and support for students with disabilities have also faced challenges, such as the lack of resources and trained personnel to provide the necessary support.

Reparation of a fence at the Escuela República del Perú in Puerto Rico, on November 8, 2018. Photo by Ruben Diaz Jr. Via Flickr

The efforts to restore the Education System

The uncertainty surrounding the political status of Puerto Rico has influenced the stability and educational policies and created additional challenges in long-term planning and decision-making. However, in May of this year, the federal administration initiated a program to decentralize the Puerto Rican educational system, which should be viewed as the beginning of sustainable efforts to ensure a dignified education in Puerto Rico. This is in response to the imminent educational crisis affecting Puerto Rico, which must be addressed regardless of the territory’s political future.

The Biden-Harris Administration has played a significant role in supporting Puerto Rico’s education, providing substantial funding through the American Rescue Plan Act and other programs. As stated by the U.S. Department of Education, public school teachers received a 30% salary increase, school repairs were expedited, and technical assistance was provided to improve the management of federal programs and funds. This move towards decentralization is seen as a historic commitment by the government of Puerto Rico to create a 21st-century educational system that better prepares students for the future. So far, $4.9 billion has been allocated to Puerto Rico since taking office. This includes $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and $1.2 billion from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act -CRRSA- 2021.

The Future

As challenges in infrastructure, inequality, and quality persist, the future of this education system and its ability to create better opportunities and outcomes for its students is largely dependent on the future stance of the US towards Puerto Rico. The Biden administration has made promises of a better, more equitable relationship between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S., but it remains to be seen whether those are implemented in practice. According to Chris de Soto, a Senior Advisor of the Office of the US Secretary of Education,

“Following two natural disasters and a global pandemic, it is critical that trust is rebuilt with students and families across the island. The public should be aware of how federal funds are contributing to the educational recovery of their schools and actually see the benefits in classrooms across the island.  While progress has been made, we know there is more work to do.” 

In recent years, US funding to the Puerto Rican education system has increased. In 2022, Puerto Rico’s education system received federal aid funds amounting to $2.62 billion which is five times higher than education funding allocated to Utah, a state with a similar population size, highlighting the US government’s understanding that the Puerto Rican education system is in a more dire situation than the mainland U.S. The key focus remains the prioritization of educational investment in mitigation and contingency plans to strengthen the resilience of the population against the imminent risk of being struck again by natural disasters. Indeed, Puerto Rico’s education system has endured challenges, the reason why the commitment of authorities to a brighter future for the next generations has to remain unwavering.


USA: 11 facts about high school dropout rates

Written by Néusia Cossa

We used to see social media, such as YouTube or Instagram, shaping dropouts, like how intelligent people get their lives together and become successful businessmen and women. Sometimes, this may be the case. Nevertheless, in reality, things are not so simple; high school dropouts have negatively affected society.

  1. Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone.

That is a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day[1]. The status dropout rate represents the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds not enrolled in high school and lacking a high school credential (either a diploma or an alternative certification such as a GED certificate). In 2020, there were 2.0 million status dropouts between 16 and 24, and the overall status dropout rate was 5.3 per cent. This Fast Fact estimates status dropout rates using the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a household survey that covers the civilian noninstitutionalized population, which excludes persons in the military and persons living in institutions (e.g., prisons or nursing facilities).

The status dropout rate varied by race/ethnicity in 2020. The status dropout rate for Asian 16- to 24-year-olds (2.4 per cent) was lower than the rates for Black (4.2 per cent) and White (4.8 per cent) 16- to 24-year-olds, and all three rates were lower than the rate for those who were Hispanic (7.4 per cent). The status dropout rate for Asian 16- to 24-year-olds was also lower than that for those of Two or more races (6.5 per cent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (11.5 per cent). The rate for those who were Black was lower than the rate for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native.

2. According to David Silver (2008), about 25% of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time.

Neild and Balfanz (2006) analyzed the School District in Philadelphia, showing that academic experiences play a critical role in students’ lack of persistence toward high school graduation. Furthermore, many students fall off the graduation track years before entering 9th grade. Attendance rates and course failure in math and English during 8th grade were found to have strong predictive power for high school completion.  In another study, Balfanz, Herzog & Mac Iver (2007) found that using attendance, behaviour, and course failure in math and English as key predictive indicators, they identified over half of the district’s future dropouts as early as the 6th grade.  Hence, the transition into the high school setting at 9th grade can push students who have been struggling academically and/or disengaged for years off the path to graduation.

In summary, there is much evidence that high school completion and post-high school educational status are not a function of high school educational experiences alone. In some cases, early educational experiences can predict the high school track in which students are assigned, influencing educational outcomes (Gonzalez et al., 2003; Oakes, 1985/2005).  Education is a cumulative process in which earlier academic experiences inform high school academic success. Nevertheless, a more precise understanding of early school factors influencing high school performance is needed to formulate pre-high school interventions to improve high school completion rates.  

3. The U.S., which had some of the highest graduation rates of any developed country, now ranks 22nd out of 27 developed countries[2]

    The dropout rate has fallen 3% from 1990 to 2010 (12.1% to 7.4%). Whereas, in 2020, the overall status dropout rate was higher for male 16- to 24-year-olds than for female 16- to 24-year-olds (6.2 vs. 4.4 percent). Status dropout rates were higher for males than females among Hispanics (8.9 vs 5.9 per cent) and Blacks (5.6 vs 2.9 per cent). However, the status dropout rates for males and females did not measurably differ for those of two or more races, White or Asian (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022).

    4. The percentage of graduating Latino students has significantly increased. In 2010, 71.4% received their diploma vs. 61.4% in 2006. However, Asian-American and white students are far more likely to graduate than Latino and African-American students.

    5. More U.S. high school students than ever are graduating on time, according to new information released by the research arm of the U.S. Education Department.

    According to the report, the percentage of students who graduated from high school within four years of starting ninth grade in the 2006-2007 school year hit a record high. “What we see is an increase,” Jack Buckley, who directs the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, told The Huffington Post. Of the 4 million students who started school in 2006-2007, 3.1 million — or 78.2 per cent — graduated with a regular or advanced diploma in the 2009-2010 school year. That is an increase of more than two percentage points[3].

    Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

    6. A high school dropout will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate over his lifetime. And almost a million dollars less than a college graduate.

    Earnings increase with educational level. Adults aged 25 to 64 who worked at any time during the study period earned an average of $34,700 annually. Average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates, and $99,300 for workers with professional degrees (M.D., J.D., D.D.S., or D.V.M.). Except for workers with professional degrees who have the highest average earnings, each successively higher education level is associated with an increase in earnings.

    Work experience also influences earnings.  Average earnings for people who worked full-time year-round were higher than average for all workers (including those working part-time or for part of the year). Most workers worked full-time and year-round (74 per cent).  However, the commitment to work full-time, year-round, varies with demographic factors, such as educational attainment, sex, and age.  For instance, high school dropouts (65 per cent) are less likely than people with bachelor’s degrees (77 per cent) to work full-time and year-round. Historically, women’s attachment to the labour force has been more irregular than men’s, primarily due to competing family responsibilities.7 Earnings estimates based on all workers (which includes part-time workers) include some of this variability.  Yet, regardless of work experience, the education advantage remains (Jennifer Cheeseman Day and Eric C. Newburger, 2002:2-3)[4].

    7. In 2010, 38 states had higher graduation rates. Vermont had the highest rate, with 91.4% graduating. Furthermore, Nevada had the lowest, with 57.8% of students graduating.

    Based on data collected from the states for the Class of 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 78 per cent of students across the country earned a diploma within four years of starting high school. The graduation rate was last at that level in 1974, officials said.

    Students in Maryland and Virginia had higher graduation rates than the national average — 82.2 per cent and 81.2 per cent, respectively.

    The District had a lower graduation rate than all but one state, with 59.9 per cent of its students graduating on time. However, it is not unusual for major cities to experience a higher dropout rate and lower graduation rate than states. One study found that the Class of 2005 graduation rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities was 53 per cent, compared with 71 per cent in the suburbs.

    High school graduation rates are one measure of school success, and educators and policymakers have been trying for decades to stem the number of U.S. students who drop out of high school.

    Notable in 2010 was the rise in Hispanic students who graduated on time, with a 10-point jump over the past five years to 71.4 per cent. Hispanics are the nation’s largest minority group, making up more than 50 million people, or about 16.5 per cent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. One in four pupils at public elementary schools is Hispanic.

    Graduation rates improved for every race and ethnicity in 2010, but gaps among racial groups persist. Asian students had the highest graduation rate, with 93 per cent finishing high school on time. White students followed with an 83 per cent graduation rate, American Indians and Alaska Natives with 69.1 per cent and African Americans with 66.1 per cent (Lyndsey Layton, 2013)[5].

    8. It is concerning to know that nearly 2,000 high schools in the United States have a graduation rate of less than 60%.

    More than half the African American students in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania attend high schools where most students do not graduate on time, if at all. By contrast, the percentage of White students attending weak-promoting power high schools in these states is below the national average. As a result, African American students in these states are up to 10 times more likely to attend a high school with meagre graduation rates than White students. Even more striking gaps can be found by looking at the high schools with the worst promoting power in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania (Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters, 2004:15).

    9. These “dropout factories” account for over 50% of the students who leave school every year.

    According to a new study, after decades of flat-lining graduation rates, states finally have started to turn around or close hundreds of so-called “dropout factory” schools and recover some of the thousands of students who had already given up.

    The Washington, D.C.-based policy firm Civic Enterprises, whose 2006 report, “The Silent Epidemic,” helped galvanize state and federal attention on high school dropouts, reported that most states had gained momentum in improving graduation rates but will need to improve at least five times faster to meet a national goal of 90 per cent of students graduating on time by 2020.

    The study suggests that a combination of state economic concerns and federal accountability pressure has helped drive the national graduation rate from 72 per cent in 2001 to 75 per cent in 2008, the most recent federal graduation estimate. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students made some of the most significant gains, but more than 40 per cent of those students still did not graduate on time as of 2008 (Sarah D. Sparks, 2010)[6].

    Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

    10. 1 in 6 students attend a dropout factory. 1 in 3 minority students (32%) attend a dropout factory, compared to 8% of white students.

    High schools with the worst promoting power are concentrated in a subset of states. Nearly 80% of the nation’s high schools that produce the highest number of dropouts can be found in just 15 states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas)[7].

    11. In the U.S., high school dropouts commit about 75% of crimes.

    With high youth crime rates, there seem to be other effective alternatives to combat youth violence; however, America continues to build more facilities to detain at-risk youth. “That is one of the questions that we raised with this special over and over again. Our economy is stalled. The prison industry is the fastest-growing industry in America. Why? Because it is a business, we incarcerate more people in the nation than any other country in the world. Like everything else, it is all about money,”. “The lives of these children are dependable, and it is sad because it costs a whole lot less money to educate these kids than it does to incarcerate these kids” (Tavis Smiley)[8].

    A part of society portrays dropouts positively, leading to chasing your dream because school is tedious and expensive, as some may say. However, dropouts indeed have significant effects on society and economy that are not very helpful. Therefore, people should proceed with their education for the sake of the country’s national interest.  

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    Broken Chalk Podcast Episode 1 – Felisa Tibbitts

    Interviewer: Johanna Farkas

    Transcription written by: Caren Thomas

    Johanna Farkas, Intern at Broken Chalk, did an interview with Felisa Tibbitts, co-founder of Human Rights Education Associates (
    The interview was recorded as audio, and this is the written transcription.

    Felisa Tibbitts. Photo available in her website, Felisa Tibbitts.

    Johanna Farkas(JF): Hello and good afternoon. This is the first episode of the Broken Chalk podcast. Broken Chalk is a human rights organization based in Amsterdam and it is dedicated to monitoring human rights violations in education. I am Johanna Farkas. I will be the host for today’s episode. It is my pleasure to welcome Felisa Tibbitts.

    Felisa Tibbitts(FT): Hi Johanna. Thank you for inviting me.

    JF: Thank you very much for accepting our invitation. Felisa, you have tremendous experience in the field of human rights and human rights education. To introduce you a bit more to the audience, Felisa’s main research interest is human rights and global democratic citizenship, critical pedagogy, education and social movements and human rights at higher education transformation. She is currently the chair of human rights education of the department of law, economics, and governance at the university of Utrecht as well as the UNESCO chair in human rights and higher education.

    She has recently been teaching at Columbia university up until 2022. She also has several fellowships, awards, grants and some experience with board memberships and advisory positions. She has been working with organizations such as the UN, Council of Europe as well as Amnesty International.

    There are several things to discover here, and I am excited to hear about everything.

    What we will be focusing about today is your own organization that you co-founded that is the Human rights education association which I will be introducing later on.

    But I will first ask some personal questions about you and your career path.

    FT: Okay.

    JF: Did you have a moment or a eureka moment when you knew that you want to work in the field of human rights or human rights education?

    FT: That’s a really nice question. It’s interesting because some of my students who have become interested in human rights education often ask what is your career path? How did you get started and I don’t how it is for you Johanna or for people who are listening but it’s not always a straight or narrow path and for me I didn’t identify my interests as being in human rights until well into my adult career.

    I had identified my interest as peace, I didn’t learn about human rights growing up. I hardly heard about human rights. It just wasn’t the language being used. I was very interested in peace. I grew up in a military family during the cold war, even during the Vietnam war, that’s how old I am and I remember when I ran out of fingers to count, when I had turned 11 years old I felt like I had to take a decision about what I wanted to do with my life.

    I was a very serious child and I decided I wanted to work for world peace and then I got to college jump ahead about I guess at that point 7 years or so and I enrolled in a course offered by Karl Deutch at Harvard called Peace Research. I didn’t even know you could study peace and so that sort of set me on my path to combining my intellectual interest with my professional interest and there’s another story about how I ended up getting into human rights specifically but those were the origins for me.

    I know a lot of people who are sort of lie first when it comes to their human rights work or human rights activism. They recognize at a really early age that they feel like they want to do something positive in the world whether that’s articulated as human rights or peace or social justice or you know it doesn’t really matter if it sets you on that path.

    JF: You have a lot of understanding of what you want to do as we’ve heard. What do you find that people might misunderstand about human rights or human rights education or do you have maybe your own experience that you did not understand at first or something that has changed in your understanding? 

    FT: I came into the human rights field in maybe one of the most positive or affirming ways possible which is that historically the Berlin wall came down and at that time I was doing my doctoral studies in international education, and I was interested in democracy and peace. So, I hadn’t heard about human rights as I mentioned earlier and I still hadn’t heard at this point it was 1990 but I went to eastern Europe and went from sort of beginning with what was still the East Berlin all the way till Bulgaria with some colleagues to do some research and what would be changing in the educational systems so I got a little bit of a flavour for in what might be happening in educational systems from a researcher’s point of view.

    And then just by luck, by chance a couple of years later I was at a conference and I met the head of the Dutch Helsinki Committee, which is the Dutch version of the Human Rights Watch, Arie Bloed. He had begun working with his colleagues in legal reform in the new post-soviet countries. So classic work that human rights people still continue to do in transitional justice in post conflict environments related to rule of law, good governance and human rights. So they were typically training and working with lawyers, judges and news laws and lifting up and strengthening civil society.

    Then there was this other sector, the schooling sector, that the Dutch Foreign Ministry, who was their main funder, had become interested to have them work in and I happened to know Arie and he said you know would you like to help us come figure out what we might do to support infusing human rights in the schooling systems. Our first country is Romania and so I went.

    In the process of doing the first mission in raising money I subsequently became a part time staff for the Dutch Helsinki committee and that really Johanna was the way I learnt about human rights. I didn’t learn it in the classroom. I learnt it with my colleagues who were human rights lawyers and I also learnt that with my partners, if you will, in these countries who themselves have heard of human rights maybe during the communist period, maybe it was just on paper what does that mean for real life so my own learning was accompanying that of my partners and although I had in one year all the legal standards the law related approach, on the other hand I was still working with teachers and kids and continue to do so for whom law is something that they cannot understand or access so there we don’t want to lose that power of human rights in terms of the international and regional human rights standards and laws but we also want to recognize the norms and principles that influence our everyday lives.

    Now that being said there are many critiques to your question, there are many critiques to human rights and I think it’s really very healthy for the human rights field to have these. I mean there’s the critique that if we look at governments who have signed on to these treaties there’s the spectrum of how well they live up to their human rights obligations, we know that accountability mechanisms at the United Nations are weak you know, monitoring is a bit stronger, accountability is weak. We know that if we look into local national context we see human rights isn’t necessarily owned by everyone and it could be one political party that takes it on and then it ends up being associated with particular political agenda or in the United States with the progressives or the leftists, when it should be for everyone and of course there’s now the very classic critique of Eurocentric that is based on natural law and individualism and questions about universality so these are all critiques and they’re all alive and well and they’re all also valid.

    One of the benefits of working in the field of education is, Johanna and for the people listening, you have to deal with these learners because you aren’t there to indoctrinate people on what human rights is, here it is take it accept it believe it and carry on. It doesn’t work that way. It is a particular justice-based system around rights. There are other frameworks for promoting social change, right? They don’t have to be named human rights. So I think in human rights education my approach is to actually offer the critiques early on so that we can discuss them and learners can decide for themselves what their points of view are, how much coincides with their own or not.

    I also think even with a flawed system that we find in implementing human rights in the international community the alternate is not a desirable one so my personal point of view is find a view that aligns with yours maybe its human rights language maybe it’s not.

    Listen to what human rights offers, at least be aware of what it is and what it can offer you and then in terms of if you’re ultimately a believer in human rights and has potential then lean in and support it, support its implementation as best as you can it doesn’t mean you don’t criticize but try to make it better in whatever ways you can, as a diplomat, as an activist, as an educator, whomever.

    Policy seminar on peace education with UNESCO & Myanmar Ministry of Education. Photo by Felisa Tibbitts.

    JF: and do you think the international community on all levels when it comes to the UN or local decision makers do they have the will or wish to consider these? Do they have the tools to make these constant reevaluations of human rights and try to progress it?

    FT: Well political will is obviously really key when it comes to state behaviour. We know that there has been a rollback until recently in terms of the democratic space and increase in authoritarianism which has coincided with the restriction of civil society, rule of law and human rights. So there’s no question that there are real challenges when we look at human rights challenges internationally. We still have ongoing wars, genocides. How is this still happening with all that we know not only about human rights but also about human history in the past 125 years. So its really befuddling and discouraging for sure.

    At the same time, I am an optimist and I am in education so I have to own up to that, but I think the recent statistics I saw shows the kind of rolling back into authoritarianism and eroding of democracy even in the those countries that are primarily democratic seems to be shifting, that we may have reached the lowest point already in terms of authoritarianism and it might be a swing back. That is not to say that it is a permanent one.

    For those of us who thought that the Berlin Wall has come down, apartheid is over, it’s going to be, maybe it’s going to be more of these cycles in term of conservatism. Conservatism does not quite capture authoritarianism, I think conservatism is quite a respectable point of view. Authoritarianism is very specifically eroding democratic principles and ways of governance so that’s very separate.

    But I have to say that my understanding from political scientists, who know more than I do, that we may have seen the worst of it in terms of recent history and we may be swaying back. I mean we still have lots of challenges mind you even in the countries that are still struggling to save some of that democratic processes and institutions, checks and balances and so forth. But those countries that are aligned with human rights, I would say most countries have some if not lip service a deep commitment to forwarding human rights. Again it might be forwarding human rights within their foreign policy interest but at least it’s still there. I think if that continues, human rights is seen as important as others.

    Sadly, because of the phenomenon like the war in Ukraine it’s an important reminder of how important human rights and humanitarian law is. So we know that when a catastrophe happen, human rights comes to the fore again.

    But I will say, Johanna, I actually think that those of us who are working, not in government, but working in civil society and working even in higher education we have also created more space for human rights. Let me give you an example, at the higher education level there are more human rights centres than ever. It used to be, 30 years ago, the human rights centre used to be at the law school because you essentially only studied human rights if you were studying human rights law. You didn’t see it anywhere else in the university and now in the last 15 to 20 years there are interdisciplinary centres for human rights that link sometimes in parallel with the law school human rights centre which gives opportunities to graduates, undergraduates and students of all levels whether they’re in the humanities or social sciences usually those two areas are those that study Human Rights so its expanding in favourable environments in certain higher education institutions absolutely expanding.

    In terms of activist work, Human Rights is being pushed down into the local level. There is a global initiative called “Human Rights Cities” and this perspective brings our attention to our local government but the local government in conjunction with community members, community organizations and all kinds of individuals in the community who hold different positions and also just regular citizens to review the human rights framework, to review the problems the community might have and what might need to be addressed. This is linked up more recently in some European cities with being cities that welcome refugees for example, so with the refugees coming in and some of the pretensions that could bring in local communities using that as a way to discuss human rights more broadly.

    So, I think there has been lots of movement in a positive way amongst those actors who are human rights oriented, like I mentioned higher education, human rights cities, human rights based approach which is kind of a conceptual approach but has real bearing in thinking about looking at organizations as a whole not as a human rights perspective.

    Other things happening in the United Nations around nonstate actors, multinationals, corporate social responsibility so I think on the other side of some of these discouraging trends that are restricting human rights movement you know ability to use in certain country context and the ongoing critiques of human rights which will always be there, do you have these positive sides of evolution and change and so I do think that the movement continues and you know and it just binds new avenues to remain relevant basically and potent.

    JF: I see I see. You mentioned a lot about the authoritarianism and the actual issues with monitoring the implementation of human rights and how in your own experiences as well you learnt properly what human rights was or how it works when you practically worked in it and went to the field. It is a large issue there are countries who partially or who does not fully respect human rights. As you mentioned there’s still so much human rights violation including genocide happening. Has this ever hindered you or felt like giving up in your career because of witnessing or learning about all these setbacks in the history and human rights?

    FT: I think that’s a fair question. I think, Johanna, I have been fortunate because I work in the field of education and that field is sort of intrinsically optimistic and forward looking. So without a question, I have also shared the deep disappointment and concern of others not only human rights people but many of us around the authoritarianism and the world back and other challenges in Ukraine, and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East don’t seem to be resolved, refugees, climate change, there’s plenty to be discouraged about but in the day-to-day that I have like having a conversation with you or meeting my students tomorrow, I can focus on these moments of learning and engagement.

     In some cases the human rights education and training I’m doing feeds immediately into social change and so sometimes I have the benefit of seeing that as I’m working with activists or I’m working with young people who eventually who get in careers in human rights or activism of some kind or so many ways you can be engaged in human rights without working for a human rights NGO or working at the UN  at the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, there are so many things to do.

    So when I’m up close its really easy and for me as well I know with education its long term game. It may be 10 to 15 years from now where we see curriculum in schools resulting in more people knowing about what human rights are and what its potential is. In that respect, I can only count wins. I don’t see any failures per se at least in the work I’m doing. But I know from my colleagues who are working in other environments where you have certain litigation, where you want it to go through successfully or you are working on social change and its big cultural changes and maybe you don’t necessarily see it in your lifetime but I even think for people who are not in education like myself, they find their own ways to stay motivated.

    You know the thing about human rights as a human rights worker, if you will, is to find your joy in it. For me the joy is teaching and for others I know love law and their joy is in that. If you’re in an NGO, the joy is partly who you get to work with like your colleagues despite these very discouraging conditions and phenomenon.

    First of all I don’t feel like I have a choice. This is always what I had to do and the question for me is what is the best way for me to engage, what are the skillsets I have, what will feed me. It is really important in human rights work, in humanitarian emergencies or in any kind of work you are confronting suffering whether it’s really up close or personal or wider you need to find a way to keep yourself healthy and engaged. Even for you as a young person you’ll have decisions to make on what to study next, if you’re going to study anymore, where you’re going to put your energies in, whatever you decide to do it should feed you and keep you going in the long term because we need people like you and others in the long term working for human rights.

    JF: Let’s talk about and move on to the active working for human rights and you yourself actually cofounded an organization called HREA. The abbreviation of it is the Human Rights Education Association. You founded that in 1996. Can you tell me a bit about the vision and mission of this organization.

    FT: Sure! So, the name itself speaks about what the mission is Human Rights Education and that was deliberate. At that time, I was living in Amsterdam, and I cofounded this organization at a time when human rights education was somewhat new. I was working for the Dutch Helsinki Committee and the work I was doing was pretty different from my colleagues because as I mentioned earlier in this conversation, I was working in the schooling sector and that was very different and new in terms of the international human rights movement.

    The person who confounded HREA with me Cristina Sganga, she was the first Human Rights Education person appointed at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International. We were both concerned at that time, and we were both aware I should say that our colleagues were not thinking of it as seriously as for example monitoring and research which is classically what human rights organizations do or in my case if my colleagues were doing human rights education, again it was not with schools but with prosecutors and all.

    So we decided we should start an organization that would help focus on human rights training and education inside the international human rights movement and would give us an opportunity to really help professionalize it so that’s why we started it. It was not to start an NGO because it’s not fun starting an NGO, it’s a lot of work. Although it’s fun if you know the people you work with and you like them then it’s fun and hard work.

     So that’s where HREA started, it started earlier on in the HREA or HRE kind of movement internationally and began from both our experiences in central eastern Europe primarily and sort of went from there.

    The mission is to promote the use of education, training and learning inside the international human rights movement in order to promote all the goals we’re looking for in human rights, the realization of human rights. The organization works with civil society organizations, stakeholders and any learners interested to learn more.

    JF: As you already mentioned your organization is already involved in a lot of different activities. You have e-learning courses, research, you take part in research with several international and local organizations and government organizations. What is the greatest achievement of this organization or what are you most proud of? Could you tell us a bit about this project?

    FT: Sure. There are two things that HREA did that I am very pleased with. I am pleased with it because it felt like a real need at that time. One thing is we began an online research center for human rights and human rights education. There was time when there was no internet and when the internet came we thought let’s put all this wonderful information that we’ve been sharing by hand from place to place filling our suitcases with books for human rights activists.

    So we started the online research center and it was really successful, thousands of resources. It made available to those interested in the human rights education but also to those who weren’t in a university setting so they couldn’t get access to human rights research online or conversely they were in a civil society organization and they just wanted to have an idea about what other people were doing so they could write their own curriculum. The online research center still exists but there are more out there now. At that time by 1998 we had an online research center which was well used. I still get good feedback from people who are in far off places and that this was the only way they could get human rights material at that time so that feels good still.

    Second thing, we started in 2001 an online learning programme. this was before Canvas, Moodle, it was before Blackboard even, we developed our own infrastructure to offer online learning for adult learners, human rights, humanitarian development workers on topics and skills really welled for practice. We were interested in filling the gap for courses that people really couldn’t find at universities or even in trainings. But if they found them in trainings it was very expensive for the organizations to organize it because they had to travel somewhere or bring in a speaker. So wanted it to be relevant and really affordable. We offered at our peak 20 online courses a year to a range of adult learners, government and nongovernment, UN and so forth on topics ranging from strategic litigation to what I offered human rights education or the child rights-based approach to programming. So, the courses would basically evolve with what was happening in the field of needs.

    So, I felt really proud of that Johanna because it was before online learning was a thing. We were out in front, we got some initial support from the Dutch Foreign Ministry and it just grew and at this there are many organizations that offer online learning like Amnesty International who has their own internal international professional development activities so we’re not filling a gap like we used to but I’m still offering courses. I’m still offering, for instance next week my online human rights education course is taking place and its filled and I am happy about that. Work does continue but happily people have more choices out there and resources which is wonderful for the field.

    JF: My last question to you would be, as someone with so much experience, what would you recommend or advise to those who are entering this field right now and who are trying to find their career or own path in human rights or human rights education.

    FT: Good question. It’s so precious when people are interested in human rights and human rights education. I have students at Columbia university who are self-identified as being interested in human rights. I will do anything to support their intellectual development and also to position themselves to make decisions about what they need to do next for example when they graduate from Columbia university. I think that there are unfortunately very few jobs in human rights, jobs meaning that those exclusively focused on human rights. I had mentioned some of the sectors earlier you might be involved in including the NGO sector, government, intergovernmental but there are so many ways you can be doing human rights.

    There are two ways to answer this question if I may. The first is that to position yourself well to get a job with an organization whose mission is exclusively human rights, is to not only think about human rights but also get skillsets that organizations can use. Whether you work for Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International or you go work for the United Nations skill sets like project management, fund raising, social media, being able to develop training resources whatever your skillsets are needed by these organizations. Always remember to develop skillsets that can be used by an organization that may allow you to work in an organization focused on human rights. I’m not sure what people’s idea of what they might be doing but think about those skillsets and go on and get those law degrees or public policy degrees or education degrees you can still work in human rights.

    The second strategy I have is to think more broadly about how you can be doing human rights. If you don’t work in an organization that is explicitly human rights related, there are so many ways that you can work towards what can be considered human rights goals. I had lunch with a former student of mine who had gone to law school, and she had attended originally to be part of the NGO sector for human rights, she realised if she worked for a law firm and uses their option to do their pro bono work she can do a lot of wonderful work for human rights NGOs supporting them with her legal advice. So just last week I had a conversation with a former student of mine who had graduated with a concentration in human rights from Columbia and she really wanted to be working full time in the human rights field. She had expected to go to law school and focus on refugee rights specifically and then proceed to work in an NGO. That was the plan, and the plans changed a bit. She is in law school but she has also been working in a private law firm and realised that she can do pro bono work through them and offer her services to the NGO sector in human rights. She’s just realized she can have a regular legal position and at the same time do the kind of work that she wants to do and so many other variations of how if you’re not working for a human rights organization per se or one that has a mission explicitly to that, you can do wonderful work either through your regular job like this young woman is going to do or through volunteerism.

    So there’s just so many ways that you can contribute to international human rights movement. I would just say to you or anyone who is excited about human rights just to keep the spirit, do position yourself well through your education and your experience because your experience is really important to develop skillsets, to get field experience, position yourself well for full time human rights work and if that doesn’t work out for you for whatever reasons just to find other ways to do good things like this.

    JF: Thank you very very much for your insights and for telling us about all your experience. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much for your contribution today. Thank you very much for your talk. It has been very exciting to hear about your experience and thank you so much for the advice. I’m sure many of us who are pursuing this field can use lots of it. Thank you very much again today and for your time.

    FT: My pleasure Johanna. Thank you for the opportunity to have a conversation with you.

    JF: So this was the first episode of the Broken Chalk podcast. I hope to see you for the next episode as well. Good bye!