In a recent snapshot report, Gallup identified eight key findings about U.S. students.

The findings stem from a poll Gallup conducted last fall that surveyed students in grades 5-12 from 3,000 public and private schools in North America. Here is what Gallup found:

  1. Engaged and hopeful students fare better on desirable outcomes, such as better self-reported academic performance and less absenteeism.
  2. Students become less engaged as they journey through school.
  3. Many students have a best friend at school, but few get to do what they do best every day.
  4. Getting to do what they do best drives high school students’ perception of success at school.
  5. Many young students but few older students feel surrounded by caring adults at school.
  6. Engagement and hope are linked to students’ plans after high school.
  7. Entrepreneurial aspiration wanes for high school students.
  8. Involvement in extracurricular activities boosts positive outcomes for students.

You can read more about the poll here to determine for yourself what to make of the results.

My initial takeaway was that this is troubling news. Gallup makes it clear that student engagement is a key metric of success, noting that it’s directly linked to academic excellence, good attendance, and post-high-school preparation. 

But Gallup says that in today’s schools it’s clear that “students become less engaged as they journey through school.”

This finding is sad. It’s also counter-intuitive. As the human mind is stimulated, it longs to learn more. Learning, as Einstein pointed out, is fun; and the more fun we have learning, the easier it becomes.

But our education system is failing to engage students, and we’re witnessing the social costs.

Why are schools failing so badly on this front? It would seem to be a number of factors: Schools are boring. They are operated much like prisons. Many use a curriculum that fails to challenge students. Top educators are often kept out of classrooms. Schools increasingly have misguided priorities.  

The tragedy is that many schools are trapped in a state of perpetual dysfunction, and in many cases this traps students in perpetual dysfunction, since many families have few (or no) alternatives.

Is it time to shake up the U.S. educational system instead of simply pouring more cash into it?

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