Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Engagement Cliff

Without getting all political, let's talk about The Cliff. Not the fiscal cliff, but the "student engagement" cliff.

From a recent Gallup poll:

The Gallup Student Poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in grades five through 12 from more than 1,700 public schools in 37 states in 2012. We found that nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated in the poll are engaged with school. By middle school that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged.

This is tragic and worth noting. I remember taking polls like this in high school, mostly as they related to drugs and alcohol. Some of the students would purposely give extreme answers (at one end or the other), so sometimes I take these with a grain of salt, but the sample size in this poll is large enough to weed out most of those. I am also currently working with students in all grades from 5-12, either at HoneyFern or in tutoring, and, anecdotally, I find this to be accurate. Kids say that school is nothing more than a trudge through requirements, that nothing is really interesting, that their teachers don't know their names. They guess they'll go to college because they don't know what else to do (even if they don't really want to go), and nothing strikes them as worth pursuing. The trend is troubling: every year a student is in school they become less and less engaged in their education.

This has been getting worse as the years pass. I taught in public school for nine years, and across those nine years I saw kids who were less able to tell me what they liked, what their pursuits were outside of school (they had none other than TV, social media and videogames). When I asked them what they would do if they could do anything, it was usually something along the lines of, "Sleep in, eat lots of junk and play videogames all day."

I see this at HoneyFern with some students who come from public school, too (not all, certainly); when I give them the student survey with questions about their life, their values and their interests, many of them give one word answers or leave things blank. Talking to them about their answers doesn't yield much more information; they are so used to having someone else tell them what to do, think and be that they have no sense of themselves.

So this then becomes the real crisis: students who are automatons, walking around with no real knowledge of themselves, no real connection to their core beliefs, and no idea how to figure out what it is that gets them up in the morning.These students wait for the next direction, unsure of what to do after they finish the initial task; there is no initiative, persistence or efficacy in their work.

The first step is recognizing there is a problem, and I am not sure schools recognize the problem. The recent Quality Counts 2013 report shows many states with great written standards and teacher retention but with a student chance of success in the low 70s (or lower).  We are missing a crucial piece in all of the hue and cry over unions, standards and teacher evaluations: STUDENTS. How can you not have them front and center? And yet many states (indeed, the vast majority of the country's public schools, in my opinion) are not "reforming" with students in mind but rather with school report cards and teacher ratings and test scores and politics.

The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure.

Indeed. Time to do something about it

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