Student Engagement Still Low in U.S. Schools

I don’t often repost other bloggers’ content, so when I do…

Scott McLeod shared on his blog survey results from Gallup about the level of engagement in learning that secondary students are experiencing. When almost 1 million students state that they become less engaged the more years they spend in school, this is a cause for alarm. These results say more about education than any test score might reveal. Below is his post.

The latest results are available from the annual Gallup poll of middle and high school students. Over 920,000 students participated last fall. Here are a couple of key charts that I made from the data:

2015 Gallup Student Poll 1

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2015 Gallup Student Poll 2

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The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. The disenfranchisement of our youth continues to happen in the very institutions that are allegedly preparing them to be ‘lifelong learners’.

Why do you think students continue to become more disengaged as they progress through our school systems? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

7 thoughts on “Student Engagement Still Low in U.S. Schools”

  1. Two major reasons: 12 years of schooling where most of the material is repeated ad nauseum (math in particular), and teachers are overworked and cannot create AND test more engaging lessons. Common Core has exacerbated the problem because now the material is much harder and as I have seen so far requires logic and reasoning beyond most students capabilities and, more importantly, their interests.


  2. Thanks for sharing this, Matt! It is alarming, to say the least! I work with alternative ed high school students, who are only a small portion of our district’s population, and are not representative of that population in toto, and some of them do represent this consequence of disengagement. I don’t have solutions! How I wish I did. How do we reverse the trend? Is it reversible? I take a long and respectful pause here. Our education cliches and education-speak would have some ready answers at this moment, but those don’t seem to be reversing the trend. The task seems enormous, daunting. Thanks, Matt, for providing a forum for thinking out loud together about how to solve problems like this one. May our conversations in the future be thoughtful, helpful, productive… and engaging.


    1. Thanks Lee for your questions and your honesty. I am a big fan of portfolio assessment and focusing on the process of learning instead of just a product. That could be one way to better engage our students, by giving them the opportunity to own their learning.


  3. I think there is too much standardization over what students are supposed to learn. In setting too many learning goals, the education system has created many problems: Teachers are too restricted and have less room to think and act creatively. Students are in an atmosphere where outside goals saturate and drive all actions. That sounds depressing. School is years of jumping through hoops.
    I think there are more behavior problems also. As a teacher, bad classes get less freedom to do open ended, potentially fun projects. Part of this is the educational institution stating that students who get too much detention/suspension have worse outcomes. I agree with this, but what about the rest of the students who are now in a better learning environment. Educational thinking is full of policy makers who only see trees and can’t see the forest. They don’t see the unintended consequences. They are not systems thinkers.


  4. Thanks for interesting post. I found your blog after exchanging comments with you at Diane Ravitch’s blog.
    I agree with all the previous comments about later grades not being able to engage students because of overstandardization and needless hoops. So what are solutions?
    I am looking for a more nuanced reading of the poll, if that is possible. I am curious to know if anyone has taken into account the maturity level of the students. For example, strongly agreeing with “I had fun at school” probably means different things. High school students fun can be very different than a 5th grader and that high school level of fun may not fit into a school community. But that does not mean that school was not enjoyable or was terrible or they never laughed during the day. Same for the idea that I get to do what I do best every day. Well if what I think I do best is pole vault then, no, I do not get to do that every single day. Is that a problem? Even the “I have a best friend at school” question can be problematic. My high school students are questioning everything. They are questioning whether they have any true friends as their lives become more complicated. There is the tension between friends and dating. They may feel physically safe but emotionally vulnerable.
    I guess my bias for qualitative research is showing because I see limits to this survey and I want more information before action is taken at a larger policy level.


    1. Thanks Alice for visiting my blog. Yes, lots of questions can spring from these survey results. You allude to the idea that teenagers are hard wired to reject authority and tend to live in the moment. Definitely things to ponder!


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