Common Measures: What Students Feel About Essential Schools

These responses were requested from students in nine Essential Schools–both students who participated in Essential School activities (called “ES students” here) and those who did not. Surveys were given to an equal number of ES and non-ES students in each school, but responses came in from 427 ES students and 185 non-ES students. (The statistics that result have been adjusted to reflect this.)

Kyle Peck, who headed the Common Measures pilot study from which these preliminary findings come, points out that interpretation of these results must be tempered by an understanding that “Essential School involvement” means different things from school to school, in terms of both the time students spend in ES-related activities and the nature of the activities themselves. Even the “non-ES” students’ responses, he warns, cannot be viewed as representative of students in non-Coalition schools; the very fact that a school has chosen to participate in the Coalition may reflect schoolwide differences from non- participating schools.

Finally, data are reported by the students themselves rather than observed by outsiders, and are subject to the widely recognized tendency of adolescents to report immediate rather than long-range reactions. And although the study did ask schools to give the surveys to a representative sample of students in both categories, Peck’s group did not monitor this, so the sample may be skewed in unintended ways.

A sampling of the study’s findings that were statistically significant follows.

Personal Data and Attitudes

  • CES students were more likely to report plans to go on to college, while non- ES students were more likely to report plans to go to a vocational/technical school.
  • ES students were more likely to report that their fathers had completed high school, but not gone on to college. Non-ES students were more likely to report not knowing about their father’s education level. The mothers’ educational levels were not significantly different between the two groups.
  • ES students were more likely to have jobs, but to spend less time working on their jobs.
  • Most students in both groups think that they are good students, that school is preparing them to work on their own, and that school is preparing them for the future. ES students are more likely to believe and to believe more strongly that they control their own futures.

Classroom Work and Studies

  • ES students spend more time outside of school studying and working on school-related work.
  • ES students are more likely to consider the workload in school unreasonable. (About a third of ES students find the load reasonable, while a quarter find it unreasonable; the rest had no opinion.) Non-ES students feel that their homework is more important than their ES peers do.
  • Non-ES students are more likely to agree that too much emphasis is put on grading as opposed to learning.
  • Though current research generally reports that in most class discussions only a few people really participate, 55 to 61 percent of both groups responding here said they participate in discussions often.
  • A majority of both ES and non-ES students report that half or less of their school day is spent learning important things. Only about 40 percent look forward to going to school, and only half report that they work hard in school. No significant difference between the groups shows up in these matters.
  • Only about a third of students, in both groups, believe that school is helping them learn to solve real problems. Almost three quarters of them say there are things they’d like to learn about that aren’t taught in school, and eighty percent say they enjoy learning things outside of school. But two thirds of all students surveyed believe that what they are learning in school is important.
  • Almost one in five students, in both groups, report that they cheat in school.

Teacher-Student Relationships

  • ES students are more likely to call their teachers consistently demanding; their counterparts rate teachers on both extremes of the scale.
  • ES students say they get more personal attention from their teachers, as measured by asking students how much time in a day their teachers spend talking “just to you”?
  • ES students believe slightly more than their peers that teachers care about them, but the difference was not quite statistically significant. Surprisingly few in both groups–54 to 63 percent–report that their teachers like them, and only 50 percent say that they have their teachers’ respect.[Note that 90 percent of teachers surveyed said they liked and respected their students]