A contemporary education is a necessity to getting ahead. This teaches the very basics that one needs to build upon to be successful in the United States. Without a contemporary education in reading, writing, math, and sciences, people have no grounding for further higher education which will propel them to success.
Education is a weird animal these days because while the curriculum is flawed and there's a lot of fluff nobody needs within it, without being able to say you've been through it all and gotten a diploma nobody thinks you're smart enough to be worth employing. The content isn't nearly what it should be but without having endured it you're sunk.
Contemporary education is a decent thing, but it's not a necessity by any means. Students can get ahead by having a more specialized education in other areas of their choosing. Of course, such a change won't be made to the American educational system by any means or any time soon.
Education in some ways has improved in making a student a well rounded person. However, there is a lot of teaching to the test and a lot of subjects and activities that have nothing to do with what someone needs to know in order to succeed in a particular area of study and get a good job.
No, a contemporary education is not a necessity to getting ahead, because a contemporary education often does not encourage enthusiasm for learning. In the contemporary education system, students are shuffled into classrooms based on their age, with little thought to their abilities or interests. Students are taught only what they need to know to survive. They are not taught things that will enable them to be competitive for jobs or to contribute to society.