Gallup: Student Engagement Drops as Kids Get Older

According to polling data collected and analyzed by Gallup, as students move from grade to grade they become increasingly disengaged from their studies. The Gallup Student Poll shows that when asked if they were engaged with school, the percentage of students who said yes dropped steadily in relation to how far along they were in their [...]

According to polling data collected and analyzed by Gallup, as students move from grade to grade they become increasingly disengaged from their studies. The Gallup Student Poll shows that when asked if they were engaged with school, the percentage of students who said yes dropped steadily in relation to how far along they were in their academic careers.

The researchers surveyed the attitudes of nearly half a million students – fifth through eighth grade – from 1,700 schools located in 37 states. The results show that while 80% of students said they were engaged with school while in elementary school, only 40% of those answering felt the same when in high school. Middle-schoolers fell smack in the center of both extremes with 60% engagement.

These results are from the fourth annual administration of the Gallup Student Poll. Schools opt to participate in the poll to measure the hope, engagement, and wellbeing of their students in grades five through 12. Gallup measures these three constructs because our research shows these metrics account for one-third of the variance of student success. Yet schools don’t measure these things. Hope, for example, is a better predictor of student success than SAT scores, ACT scores, or grade point average.

These results indicate that educators who are fighting to improve student outcomes are facing long odds even without accounting for the resistance from the entrenched education establishment. Figuring out how to keep kids invested in their studies could prove to be one of the biggest steps towards the general improvement of the quality of American high school graduates.

Writing about the results on the Gallup Blog, Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education, called the results “a national failure,” adding that had teachers, administrators and education officials done more to keep up the students’ enthusiasm for learning, the results would be exactly reversed – showing growing, rather than diminishing, engagement.

Imagine what our economy would look like today if nearly eight in 10 of our high school graduates were engaged — just as they were in elementary school. Indeed, this is very possible; the best high schools in our dataset have as many as seven in 10 of their students engaged, akin to the engagement levels of our elementary schools. In fact, in qualitative interviews Gallup conducted with principals of these highly engaged high schools, we heard quotes such as, “Our high school feels like an elementary school,” when describing what they are doing differently.

The most alarming finding was the fact that the engagement appeared lower among the most promising students – the overachievers and the creative types – exactly the individuals who are key to America’s future economic growth.

Even worse is the fact that it isn’t just engagement that drops, it is desire to put their skills towards important economic objectives like starting a business. Nearly half of all students polled said that they wanted to own a business some day, yet schools they were enrolled in had taken no steps to grow and develop that kind of entrepreneurial ambition.

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