Associated Press
In this June 7, 2010 photo, graduates listen to the commencement address at Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Mich.

When it comes to school, young people's lives are not the same as they were 40, 30 or 20 years ago, according to a study released last month by the National Center for Education Statistics. Opportunities, expectations and enrollment rates — at least in the realm of education — are higher than ever.

The study found that young people have higher expectations for the future than their elders did, In 1972, 19 percent of seniors did not expect to receive their high school diploma. That number fell to 5 percent by 2004. In the same amount of time, the number of students who expected to earn a graduate or professional degree jumped from 13 to 38 percent.

And while the number of teens enrolled in school is at a virtually identical (and very high) rate, figures for young adults ages 18 to 24 who are enrolled has risen. In 1980, 46 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds were enrolled in school. By 2009, the number had risen to 69 percent.

Not every finding in the study was rosy, however. For example, while the overall high school dropout rate decreased between 1990 and 2009, "gaps by race/ethnicity persist," the study concluded. Dropout rates of Hispanics age 16 to 24 were at 18 percent, twice as high as the rate of African-Americans and more than three times higher than whites of the same age range.

And while many aspects of education have clearly improved in the last 30 years, reading aptitude is not one of them. The study reported findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which showed "no significant changes in the overall reading achievement of 13- and 17-year-olds from 1980 to 2008."

And on the international level, American students are only middling when it comes to mathematics. According to the study, of 34 countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States' 15-year-olds scored lower than 17, better than five, and the same as 11, nations in 2009. Average mathematics scores in America did not improve between 2004 and 2008.

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