Among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with school as a primary reason, and 42 percent say that they don’t see value in the schoolwork they are asked to do. In What Teens Want from Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Crux Research tackle the question of what truly motivates and engages students in high school.
The sudy’s nationally representative survey of over two thousand high schoolers in traditional public, charter, and private schools finds that nearly all students report being motivated to apply themselves academically, but they also primarily engage in school through different levers. Researchers identified six subgroups of students with varying engagement profiles:
- Subject Lovers (19 percent of students) generally enjoy school and feel engaged when they perceive what they’re learning to be useful, interesting, and relevant to their daily lives. Compared to their peers, they are more likely to report that academic classes are their favorite thing about school. They are motivated by learning new and challenging things, and many expect to go on to attend four-year colleges.
- Emotionals (18 percent) are students who convey many positive emotions when in the classroom. While they are not the top academic performers, Emotionals nonetheless often report not wanting to stop working at the end of class. They have a need for connection at the school level (such as smaller schools), and without it, may run the risk of dropping out.
- Hand Raisers (18 percent) are “in the moment” students who apply themselves in class during the school day, but appear uninterested in the other things that school has to offer them. They do fairly well academically and are generally satisfied with their school, but don’t report spending much time on homework or in extracurricular activities.
- Social Butterflies (16 percent) are much likelier than their peers to report feeling like they belong at school, that they matter to others, and that they are generally understood and respected. They most enjoy the social aspects of school (such as sports and hanging out with friends), and tend to be average performers academically.
- Teacher Responders (15 percent) value close relationships with teachers and other adults in their school, and thrive when they feel that adults are invested in them academically and personally. These students forge tight bonds with their teachers and benefit from strong relationships that help them cultivate a connection to the subject. They are likely to choose their current school even if they could go elsewhere.
- Deep Thinkers (15 percent) listen carefully, like to figure out things on their own, think deeply when they take tests, and complete their assignments. They do well in school, but not as well as one might expect from a group that is intrinsically motivated.