Opinion
School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor

Student Engagement Should Be the Main Goal of Education

May 10, 2016 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Your article “Survey: Student Engagement Drops by Grade Level” should have been the issue’s lead article. Lack of student engagement is the greatest problem with education in our country. However, it is an issue that no current key public officer, presidential candidate, or recent U.S. Department of Education leader seems to grasp.

The fundamental purpose of education is to preserve and nurture enthusiasm for learning. That being the case, engagement is the No. 1 factor that should be measured in schools. Yet our current educational reformists—both the corporate types and their shills in elected leadership roles—do not seem to grasp this. Instead, they push their mindless mass-testing siege, which contributes mightily to the decline in student engagement.

The author Lee Jenkins, in his 1997 book Improving Student Learning, reports that while he was superintendent of a California school district, he measured student enthusiasm for learning. The results were stark: Student enthusiasm for learning declined steadily from kindergarten and 1st grade to 8th grade, dropping from about 90 percent to between 30 percent and 40 percent.

In other words, students begin their school experience enthusiastic about learning, and our school structure and standardized-testing practices reduce that enthusiasm dramatically. If one envisions the creation of college-ready and work-ready graduates as the primary goal of K-12 education, this preparation target will not be met under the current system.

I believe that most appropriately trained educators realize all of this instinctively, if not consciously. And the failure of our leaders to address this phenomenon is contributing greatly to professional-educator frustration, including early retirements for current teachers and lower numbers of people pursuing teaching jobs in the first place.

I would encourage Education Week to lead deep and ongoing coverage of the issue of student engagement. It is the greatest single contribution the newspaper could make to turning things around in schools and really improving the lives of our students and the success of our educational system.

Robert Barkley Jr.

Worthington, Ohio

The author is a retired executive director of the Ohio Education Association.

A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of Education Week as Student Engagement Should Be the Main Goal of Education

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