Teenagers nationwide have issued a decisive verdict on their high schools. A new study reports that most think their classes are not challenging enough, often lack exemplary teachers and are filled with too many disruptive students.
The study, conducted by the national non-profit group Public Agenda, sketches a portrait of American high schools in which most students are coasting without much effort through their classes - and know it - and view their years there as time spent to gain practical job skills and good work habits.
Most students who were questioned as part of the survey said they like their schools overall. But about 70 percent said that unruly students distract them and undermine classes. Also, 65 percent of students said they do not try very hard to succeed in class, and half reported that teachers do not insist on high academic standards.
Researchers highlighted the comment of one California teenager who took part in the survey as typical of many student responses illustrating how easy it is to earn acceptable grades without much work: “I didn’t do one piece of homework last year in math,” he said. “I just took the tests. I’d get A’s on the tests, not do the homework and I got a B in class. There’s just lots of ways to get around it.”
The survey, titled “Getting By,” included the responses of more than 1,300 high school students nationwide who were selected randomly and interviewed by telephone. Most of them attend public schools. Small groups of teenagers also were gathered together at five sites around the country to discuss their attitudes about high school.
The findings match those in other recent studies that found substantial numbers of students disengaged from learning. A survey of college freshmen nationwide conducted annually by researchers at UCLA this year found that a record number of them, 35.6 percent, reported that they often were bored in their high school classes.
The Public Agenda report also suggests that the priorites of most high school students are the same: They are eager to master basic reading and math, to work with computers, and to gain values such as honesty and tolerance. But they often question the relevance of learning subjects such as history or literature.
In the survey, 75 percent of students said that learning computer skills was “extremely important.” But only 32 percent gave the same priority to learning history or geography around the world, and only 23 percent to learning classics by Shakespeare or Plato. Studying modern American writers such as Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck ranked last on a list of subjects given to students to rate. Only 18 percent of them said that studying those works is extremely important.