Engaging Teens at School

As high schools work to improve their graduation rate, a new study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute highlights how teens engage with their schools. The report, What Teens Want from Their Schools, presents the results of a survey of over 2,000 high schools students. The authors of the study have also provided a short video summary of the results of the survey and a five-question quiz to find out how engaged your teen is at school.

The survey results indicated that nearly all students report being motivated to work academically, but found that they engaged with school in different ways. The study identified six subgroups that engaged with their school in specific ways. Those groups are:

  1. Subject Lovers (19%): These students are more likely to be white males and place in the top quarter of their class. They are more likely than their peers to report that academic classes and clubs are their favorite things about school; they are more likely to take AP, Math, science, and technology classes; and they are least likely to say they are bored in class.
  2. Emotionals (18%): These students are equally divided between male and female, but are more likely to be white, urban, and from a high-poverty home. They express a strong need for connection at the school level, and if given a choice, would prefer a smaller school with fewer students who all know each other. Compared to their peers, they report they are less likely to follow the rules at their school or feel safe at school. They also report that they are not doing as well as their peers academically and report being less motivated than them as well. This places them in danger of falling through the cracks if their school doesn’t engage them emotionally.
  3. Hand Raisers (17%): These students are more likely to be female and less likely to come from high-poverty homes. They are engaged, work hard, and participate in class, but report that they don’t spend much time on homework or extracurricular activities. They are the least likely among their peers to say that they pretend to work, zone out, or let their mind wander in class. They are least likely to engage with after school clubs. In focus groups, these students said they were engaged in the classroom, but tended to unplug from school life once the final bell rings. They enjoy active participation in class, but tend not to form deep personal relationships with teachers and staff.
  4. Social Butterflies (16%): These students are more likely to feel that they belong at school and enjoy the social aspects of school (e.g., watching or taking part in sports, catching up with peers). The majority of them say their favorite things at school are “hanging out with friends” or “lunch time.” Among students who reported really connecting with an adult at school, these students were most likely to identify a coach as that adult.
  5. Teacher Responders (15%): Similar to the hand raisers, these students are slightly more likely to be female and not from high-poverty households. They differ from the hand raisers in that they value close relationships with teachers and other adults at school and do best when they feel teachers are invested in them both academically and personally. They are most likely to really connect with an adult at school, and that adult is most likely to be a teacher. They are group most satisfied with their school. The potential concern with these students is that if they don’t connect with a teacher, they can check out in class.
  6. Deep Thinkers (15%): These students are more likely to be female, and half are non-white. They are the most cognitively engaged group of students, but unlike those in other groups, has no other primary engagement method. They listen carefully, like to figure things out on their own, think deeply when taking tests, and complete their assignments. They are the least likely group to give their current school and “A” rating. They also report being dissatisfied with their teachers and the structure of the school day (e.g., starting too early or block scheduling). About one-third report that they have considered dropping out of high school.

The study provides further proof that there is no one way to engage students, and that using any specific approach is likely to disengage other students.

Illinois Public Schools Rank 11th Nationally

Illinois’s public schools face a lot of challenges—inequitable funding, underfunding by the state, and more. But a recent report released by WalletHub indicates when it comes to a broad measure of how public schools are doing, Illinois does better than most.

The report didn’t focus solely on school funding or academic outcomes, but aggregated two broad measures—quality and safety. The quality measure accounted for 60% of a state’s score and included items such as (3 points each, unless * indicated double weight):

  • Presence of public schools in “Top 700 Best US Schools”
  • High school graduation rate among low-income students
  • Dropout rate*
  • Math* and Reading* test scores
  • Median SAT* and ACT* scores
  • Share of 2016 high school class scoring “3” or higher on Advanced Placement (AP) tests*
  • Share of 2016 high school graduates who completed ACT and/or SAT*
  • Division of SAT and ACT results by percentile
  • Pupil-Teacher ratio
  • Share of licensed or certified K-12 teachers

For the safety measure, which accounted for 40% of the score, items included were (4 points each, unless * indicated double weight):

  • Share of threatened/injured high school students*
  • Share of high school students not attending school due to safety concerns
  • Share of high school students with access to illegal drugs
  • Share of high school students participating in violence
  • Share of armed high school students
  • Bullying incidence rate*
  • Disciplinary incidence rate
  • Youth incarceration rate

Using these measures, Illinois’s public schools ranked 9th in the nation in quality and 21st in safety, for an overall rank of 11th. Illinois tied Missouri for the highest median SAT score in the country, perhaps not too surprising given Illinois’s results from ACT testing in years past.

Photo © 2016 by Nick Youngson under Creative Commons license.

Ending the Expulsion of Preschoolers in Illinois

Photo © 2009 by Sarah Gilbert under Creative Commons license.

“Expelled from preschool” sounds like a headline from a humor website like The Onion, but in fact preschoolers are expelled nationwide at more than three times the rate of students in K-12 classes. More significantly, these expulsions are disproportionately given to boys and to African-American and Hispanic students. Preschool education is critical to preparing students for success in school, especially for students from low-income families, students learning English as a second language, and students with special needs. Preschool expulsion jeopardizes the foundation of those students’ education, making them less prepared to enter kindergarten.

Illinois passed a law last year requiring K-12 schools to improve their suspension and expulsion practices. This year, the Illinois General Assembly has passed HB 2663, which currently awaits the governor’s signature. HB2663 would:

  • Prohibit the expulsion of children from preschool programs that receive money from the state.
  • Requires documentation of steps taken when a child exhibits persistent and serious challenging behaviors to ensure that all available interventions, supports, and community resources are applied.
  • Provides for the creation of a transition plan if there is documented evidence that all available interventions and supports recommended by a professional have been exhausted to move the child to another preschool program. The plan must be designed to ensure continuity of services and the comprehensive development of the child.
  • Requires the state to recommend professional development training and resources to improve the ability of teachers, administrators, and staff to promote social-emotional development, address challenging behaviors, and to understand trauma and trauma-informed care, cultural competence, family engagement with diverse populations, the effect of implicit bias on adult behavior, and the use of reflective practice techniques.
  • Requires the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, in consultation with the governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and the Illinois State Board of Education, to adopt rules similar to those above for licensed day care centers, day care homes, and group day care homes.

Illinois PTA is urging Governor Rauner to sign HB2663 into law.

Revamped FERPA|Sherpa Provides More on Student Privacy

Online access and technology plays an increasing role in classrooms, and with that increase comes concerns about student data and privacy. Illinois PTA highlighted this issue a few years ago when National PTA partnered with the Future of Privacy Forum and ConnectSafely to create the Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy.

The guide was part of FERPA|Sherpa, a website and resource center to help students, families, educators, school districts, and legislators understand and navigate federal education privacy laws. In the past three years since FERPA|Sherpa was first launched, over 100 new laws have passed in 40 states regarding student privacy, new resources have been published, and best practices regarding student data protection continues to grow.

To reflect all those changes, FERPA|Sherpa has relaunched with a new design. Sections for families, schools and districts, education technology companies, and policymakers have been revamped. New sections for students, educators, state education agencies, and higher education have been created. A searchable resource bank of over 400 education privacy resources has been complied.

For families, the resources include not just the Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy, but also short videos and information on the role of student data in education, how student data empowers parents, how student data is used, and parent and student privacy rights. Of special interest to PTAs is the video on “directory information” and student privacy. There is also a section on keeping kids safe online outside of school as well.