College & Workforce Readiness

Survey: Students Say Schools Don’t Give Them Skills They Need to Succeed After Graduation

By Evie Blad — November 29, 2018 3 min read
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Many high school students believe their schools aren’t adequately preparing them for challenges they will face in college, career, and life, a new survey of current and recent students finds.

Among respondents to the nationally representative survey, 48 percent said their school is “pretty good as is,” while 43 percent said their school “needs to make some changes” and 9 percent said their school “needs to make a lot of changes.” The survey, administered by Hart Research and Civic on behalf on the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, asked students about a variety of school factors related to safety, relationships, and engagement.

“What they cite as the problem is a lack of development of social and emotional skills, everything from confidence to working with others who are different from them, problem solving, working through difficult emotions and stress...,” said John Bridgeland, the CEO of Civic. “Most students told us their schools aren’t cultivating these social-emotional skills and, to the extent they are, it’s through participation in organized sports and extracurriculars...Most didn’t see it in the classroom instruction and the larger culture of the school.”

The findings come as national groups, philanthropists, and policymakers try to emphasize social-emotional learning, a broad term for strategies that seek to make education more sensitive to students’ personal and relational development and to strengthen their skills in areas like problem-solving, persistence, and relationship skills.

Just 36 percent of current students and 23 percent of recent high school students said their high school had done a “great” or “pretty good” job of addressing at least six of seven areas the survey identified as key social-emotional concepts:

  • Knowing how to get along/work with people different from you;
  • Feeling confident in yourself;
  • Understanding other people’s feelings/views;
  • Knowing how to solve disagreements in a positive way;
  • Understanding your own emotions and why you feel different emotions;
  • Dealing with difficult situations in your life; and
  • Knowing how to deal with stress.

The schools that students rated high in social-emotional skills preparation were more white and less likely to be in rural areas than other schools represented in the survey.

The survey was conducted online from May 23 to June 1. Respondents included 800 current high school students ages 14 to 19 and 500 post-high school young adults ages 16 to 22. Former students included both those who graduated and those who had failed to complete high school.

Respondents’ high scores on their schools’ social-emotional learning correlate with higher ratings of other areas, like their feelings about its academics, relationships with adults, and their sense that their school was “a place for students to learn and do their best,” the report finds. And students who scored their schools high in at least six of the seven areas were more likely to say they feel safe at school than respondents who rated their schools lower in social-emotional learning.

When asked about what conditions make it difficult for students to learn, respondents identified many factors that aren’t directly academic, including stress and boredom.

The report’s authors concluded that better school environments and better integration of social and emotional development into schools’ core work could help address some of those factors.

“Bringing the head and the heart to the school can make that difference,” said Tim Shriver, the board chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

You can read the full report here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.