Gallup: As students age, they disengage

The longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, reports Gallup.

Seventy-six percent of fifth graders who participated in a student poll said they’re engaged with school. By middle school that fell to 61 percent of students. Only 44 percent of high school students were engaged.


Explanations for the burn out range from “our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students — not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college,” Gallup concludes.

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  1. Adding “experiential and project-based learning pathways” would have dropped my kids’ “engagement” like a rock. Well-planned honors and AP science labs, with distinct objectives and closely connected to class content, are fine, but the kind of stuff the ed world means by “experiential and project-based learning” is something else. My kids and their friends were at the top of the academic heap at their schools and were also full-time athletes. If such “learning” doesn’t appeal to such kids, is it just play-time for kids who don’t want to be in school?

  2. Hmmmm. What about puberty? Kids didn’t historically sit around being entertained and filling in test bubbles in classrooms all day upon hitting puberty. Girls got married and cared for babies, while boys did apprenticeships or otherwise started working for a living. While I’m very grateful for the change in education opportunities, we need to respect the need that these very young adults have for autonomy and responsibility instead of continuing to school them the same as we did in K-5 (i.e., more project-based learning? seriously? How “Mickey Mouse”! how about letting them have a part-time job with some pocket money tied to their performance? and for those inclining toward higher education, adolescent employment usually does wonders in firming up the desire to go to college).

    • The whole concept of adolescence is a 20th-century invention. Until then, kids spent their childhood with adults, being trained for adult roles. They had real responsibility for domestic chores and younger siblings, as well as participation in parents’ occupations. This is still being done in non-industrial societies all over the world. More and better voc ed is desperately needed; the career prospects are far better for a good car mechanic than they are for a mediocre grad of state u with a degree in nothing much.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Well, in the late Roman empire, the upper classes certainly had a period of adolescence. Look at St. Augustine (Whose grades were lower since his mom supported him! ;) Classical literature is all the education theory we need!)

        It seems that prosperous people have always had adolescents. (Look at the medieval students in Paris) And Hamlet was definitely an adolescent, not an adult….The difference today is that, by historical standards, everyone is prosperous. So the kids who don’t come from families with the resources to bail them out make the same mistakes that were once reserved for the wealthy…

  3. Ponderosa says:

    Go to any public high school and you’ll see scores of glum-looking kids sitting in classes who have effectively dropped-out. It’s easy to surmise that the cause is lack of groovy activities, but I think the biggest reason is that a lot of kids can’t cope with the increasingly difficult work of middle and high school. They don’t get it, and they know that even if they try they probably won’t get it. About 15% of my seventh grade history students are pretty bewildered most of the time. Some have congenital cognitive problems; some just had impoverished home education that our district’s content-poor curricula can’t compensate for. I can imagine these kids having been “engaged” in a peppy 2nd grade setting. This disengagement is one of the shameful by-products of our weak elementary curricula and our refusal to retain kids at the early stages when intensive intervention might actually help.

  4. Crimson Wife says:

    I got progressively more engaged in school because they started tracking in 5th grade for English and math and in all other subjects in 7th. So school got more intellectually challenging as progressed as I transitioned from being in heterogeneous classes to honors ones.

    The high school for which my kids are zoned doesn’t start honors classes until ELEVENTH grade. I can’t imagine what torture that must be for the bright kids. I personally believe honors classes should start at 6th grade when the kids transition to middle school, if not earlier.

  5. One of the biggest mistakes in education in the last thirty years was the push of “college for all”. Not everyone will, can or even wants to go to college.

    We need to bring back general education, true honors classes and vocational education, but we can’t because of the demographic realities that result when we do.

  6. Here’s a question: how long are students supposed to stay engaged? is it OK for law students to stop being “engaged” after they graduate? was it OK for Steve Jobs to stop being engaged while and undergrad and drop out? is it OK for Jane Doe to stop being engaged after her senior year in HS and inlist in the military? if all of these are OK, why is it surprising that some kids dis-engage earlier than that? mandoatory attendance laws were passed when we had more options for kids than “college for all.”

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    At puberty, people change and their interests change. They are still curious and interested in how the world works but their focus is different. They want to discover how to create a life as an independent human being. They want to “fit in” with their peers. They want romantic relationships. They want practical skills.

    Tragically, at this same time, school becomes more “academic.” For those with an academic bent (probably most of us here), that is wonderful. But for the majority of young people, it is terrible–and “disengagement” is the entirely predictable result.

    Ironically, they show that they are still curious and interested in the world when they ask, “When am I ever going to use this?”

    Alas, the honest answer is, “You will probably use it in a class you will be required to take next year. You may find it very interesting and make a career of it, though there are very few jobs that actually use it. For what it’s worth, I think it will make you a better person even if you never use it.”

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Said it before: The idea that H. Sap’s evolution fits the kids to be plunked behind a desk from age six to age eighteen is stupid. Only an enforced respect, or grudging obedience, for authority has allowed pub ed to do as well as it has for most kids.
    My wife and I are working with Nepali HS students. They arrived about a year ago. Going over Earth Science. Never heard of a compass, magnetic fields in Earth. Didn’t know how long people had been on Earth. So when we looked at animations of continental drift, the guy wanted to know if people had been around then. Pollution–no black smoke from the power plant which burns coal. What’s coal? History:
    A grand illustration of an impoverished background, although he and his sister are sucking this stuff up like a sponge. But they learned only math and some English in a refugee camp in Nepal.