April 15, 2014
Engaged Are Students and Teachers in American Schools?
Anya Kamenetz, Hechinger Report
recently released a major report on the State of American Schools.
Their data paints a picture of schools performing as a complex
ecosystem, with the wellbeing, engagement, and performance of
teachers, students, and principals all intertwined.
report combines decades of surveys of 5 million American teachers
and principals with the results of the Gallup Student Poll,
now billed as the largest survey of American students with 600,000
5th through 12 grade participants, and several large follow-up
studies. Gallups also drawing on its background developing
the Employee Engagement Survey, which has been administered
to a total of almost 30 million people in all professions.
real bummer is [teachers] dont feel their opinions matter.
Gallup polls ask students, teachers, principals, and other professionals
about their levels of hope, emotional engagement, and well-being
at work or school. While these qualities may seem like frills,
theyve been demonstrated over time to have powerful correlations
with harder metrics, like a companys profits or a schools
test scores. For example, in 2009, Gallup studied 78,000 students
in 160 schools in eight states, finding that a one-percentage-point
uptick in a schools average student engagement was connected
to an average six-point increase in reading achievement and
eight points in math. Similarly, Gallup researchers have found
in peer-reviewed studies that their hope measure
was a better predictor of grades in college than SATs, ACTs
or high school GPA. In a third study, students levels
of hope accounted for almost half of the variation in math achievement
and at least one-third of their variation in reading and science
Busteed, the executive director of Gallup Education, says that
in some ways, the point Gallup is making with this line of research
is even more provocative. We definitely want
to show that these quote unquote soft measures move
the quote unquote hard measures, like grades and
test scores, he said. But were also asking:
is engagement more important or are grades more important? If
you ask a parent whether theyd rather have a kid who is
getting mostly As and is only mildly interested in what theyre
learning or mostly Bs and is super engaged, I can tell you what
most parents would pick.
how are we doing on these soft measures? According to the survey,
55% of American students scored high on engagement, and just
one in three score high on all three measures of hope, engagement
measures have a lot to do with relationships and feeling valued.
So its not surprising that theres an intimate connection
between the schoolroom engagement of students, and the workplace
engagement of teachers. As the saying goes, Our working
conditions are our students learning conditions.
found that students who agreed with the following two statements:
1. My school is committed to building the strengths of
each student and 2. I have at least one teacher
who makes me excited about the future were 30 times more
likely to be engaged.
most teachers are not in a position to share excitement with
students. About 70% are classified as disengaged, which puts
them on par with the workforce as a whole. This is surprising
in some ways, because teachers score close to the top on measures
that indicate that they find meaning in their life and see work
as a calling. Unfortunately, the structures that teachers are
working inwhich may include high-stakes standardized testing
and value-added formulas that evaluate their performance based
on outside factorsseem to tug against their happiness.
The real bummer is they dont feel their opinions
matter, Busteed says. K-12 teachers scored dead last among
12 occupational groups in agreeing with the statement that their
opinions count at work, and also dead last on My supervisor
creates an open and trusting environment.
takes the measure directly to the top. Gallups study found
that principal talent had a powerful impact on teacher engagement,
which in turn affects student engagement. They recommend that
principals adopt a more collaborative management style and help
new teachers acclimate by putting them together to form partnerships
with more experienced teachers.
and polls arent perfect, of course. But overall, the message
of this research is a powerful indicator that we need to do
a better job at looking at the full range of factors that affect
school performance. Gallup is promoting its student poll to
districts as another means of making decisions about what really
counts in school.