Are you starting to get depressed as you read this? Starting to think you might click back to pieces about the debt-ceiling crisis, horrific air pollution in Beijing, or your computer's vulnerability from having Java enabled in your browser? Let's try a different mental exercise. Let's imagine the Gallup folks didn't get it right. Any chance of that? Possibly.
Gallup's public announcement of the study through its blog leaves out any mention of the study's methodological limitations. One has to go to the official report itself to find those. Here are a few of them: Schools participating in the study were not randomly selected; the participating schools did so voluntarily; participation rates varied by school; the overall data did not reflect responses from a nationally representative sample of students; and the overall data were not statistically weighted to reflect the U.S. student population. I'm no statistician, but these shortcomings seem considerable.
Moreover, one could ask whether the questions the pollsters used to measure students' engagement were the best ones they could have devised for that purpose. While they correspond roughly to the questions Gallup uses to measure employee engagement in the workplace, one still can wonder about their appropriateness here.
In other words, if you were trying to ask your daughter some questions that probed her level of engagement at school -- her investment in learning, her delight in doing her work, her eagerness to participate in class, etc. -- the questions you'd come up with would probably be quite different from at least some of the ones Gallup asked (listed here):
8. I have a best friend at school.
9. I feel safe in this school.
10. My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important.
11. At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
12. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good schoolwork.
13. My school is committed to building the strengths of each student.
14. In the last month, I volunteered my time to help others.
So, it's possible that the Gallup study didn't get it quite right. (Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo on these points.) Perhaps the decline in student engagement is not as precipitous as the research suggests. Unfortunately, anyone who has spent much time in schools can verify that the general downtrend in student engagement from elementary through high school described by the Gallup data is real.
I don't know how to solve this problem. But I repeat this assessment by Brandon Busteed because I think he's correct: "The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure." In my view, education reformers are wasting a lot of time on things like the Common Core standards, when this decline in engagement may be our biggest educational problem.
What would you do about it?