Apparently about third of students are poorly prepared for, well, much of anything. “Two-fifths of high school graduates are unprepared for college or the workforce, writes Daniel de Vise in the Washington Post. (So what are they doing with their lives?)

There’s not much surprise here, widespread academic failure being a fairly common theme of education writing, but the difference in this latest study has to do with where the authors find fault.

Our institutions are to blame for this. So argue Regina Deil-Amen and Stefanie DeLuca in a recent piece about American education structure. The article explains that college preparation programs have expanded, and so have school-to-work programs. The problem is that about a third of students do college prep and a third do school-to-work. And then there are the rest.

According to Deil-Amen and DeLuca:

A third group constitutes a virtual underclass of students who are neither college-ready nor in an identifiable career curriculum. This ‘‘underserved third’’ group is likely to depart from high school having taken classes mainly from the high school general curriculum in which they are at risk of receiving low-quality instruction, lower levels of academic preparation, and little to no job preparation or guidance. This group is at risk of not enrolling in college or enrolling (often at a remedial level) and leaving before earning a degree; either course places them at risk of not accessing preferred occupational pathways and transitioning successfully into work and adult life.

This is a very interesting analysis. In much of the discussion of college remediation, for instance, higher education institutions blame high schools and argue that such schools need to do a better job with their students.

In fact, it looks like high schools do a pretty good job with students, some of them anyway. Students who take college preparation courses end up doing fine in college. Students who take a jobs-based course series end up doing pretty well getting jobs.

And then there are the other students, those with no plan. Eventually they surely end up getting some sort of jobs, or maybe attending community college somewhere. But mostly, it appears, they don’t end up doing very well.

It shouldn’t really be much of a surprise; it turns out their high schools didn’t much prepare them for anything after high school.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer