ALL students should be exposed to Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and honors course work.

Research shows that students strongly benefit by taking advanced classes. Students who take rigorous classes are better prepared for college, earn better grades, and are more likely to graduate. Colleges and universities give admissions preference to students who have taken advanced course work, offering them more academic scholarships. Most important, students who are challenged in school develop skills of perseverance.

In Federal Way we believe that all children can succeed at the highest academic levels. We automatically enroll students who meet standard or pass the Washington state assessments into our most rigorous classes. Enrollment in these challenging courses has increased by nearly 200 percent since 2009.

Parents may choose to opt their students out, but only 1.3 percent of academically accelerated students have chosen to do so. Last year, our students’ passing rates in Advanced Placement exams rose a staggering 38 percent.

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It is clear that our students will rise to the level of expectation we set for them. They will push themselves to achieve more and contribute more to their community once we convey a sincere belief in their abilities.

We must ensure all children, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or income, have access to our schools’ most rigorous curriculum. Unfortunately, institutional barriers within our traditional education system prevent far too many students from enrolling in our most challenging classes. The solution to a worldwide crisis might be found in the heart and mind of a child written off by a system that was long sorted based on race or gender.

American public schools need to act with a sense of urgency and the belief that all children can and will succeed at the highest academic levels. Today’s students will face challenges that are immediate, ongoing and widespread, but they are passionate about improving the world they will soon inherit. They are eager to learn and grow, and it is our mandate and legacy to support their passions and ensure they are prepared to assume their role as the next generation of global leaders.

China’s air pollution, African water shortages and American poverty are problems today’s young people will be required to solve. They will find solutions to these and future problems using technologies yet to be invented. They will invent them. They will need to master teamwork strategies because they will not have jobs as we now know them. They will collaborate with others both locally and globally.

To thrive in the 21st century our students need a broad, strong academic foundation. It must be fortified with higher-level thinking, multicultural problem solving and international communication skills. Our students need to understand and build on the knowledge of different generations. They need to be entrepreneurial and create new industries. They are global citizens. To succeed they will need skills known only to diplomats just a decade ago.

Washington ranks 2nd in the country in the new economy, according to a report titled “The 2010 State New Economies Index: Benchmarking Economic Transformation in the States” by The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The authors describe the new economy as knowledge-based, global, entrepreneurial and innovation-based.

Over the past century we’ve moved from a world where everything seemed certain and little changed, to a world where nothing is certain but change. Our students understand this perhaps better than we do. We owe it to them to create educational opportunities that ensure they are ready to succeed in whatever path they choose.

The world is intolerant of the ill-prepared, but embraces those who possess the attitude and skills to compete and contribute. The next generation is ready to take their place as global leaders. Are we prepared to do our part?

Rob Neu is superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools.