By Robert Balfanz and John Gomperts, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Graduation season is in full swing, bringing with it a lot of discussion about life and opportunity. Inevitably there will be news stories about graduation ceremonies or a new YouTube video sensation focusing on commencement words of wisdom. While inspiring, those stories never give a full portrait of this rite of passage in America.
High school graduation—once the end of educational achievement for many—is now really just the starting line. The changing economy means that people who don't receive any post-secondary education will have access to only 40% of jobs in the next decade.
The beginning of this year's commencement season coincided with the 30th anniversary of one of the most important education reports the nation ever produced. "A Nation at Risk" warned that a mediocre education system put America's future in such serious jeopardy that had a foreign power imposed this poor performance on us, "we might well have viewed it as an act of war."
Yet three decades later, the reading and math skills of America's 15-year-olds still rank, respectively, as "average" and "below average" among developed nations. So, as you attend your next graduation ceremony, here are five things you won't hear but need to know.
Not everyone eventually gets a diploma.
In reality, fewer than 80% of students receive a regular high school diploma (not simply a GED) within four years. That number drops to less than 70% for African-American students and lower yet for students with disabilities and English language learners.