By MICHAEL JANOFSKY / NYTIMES
Published: July 16, 2005
DES MOINES, July 15 - A large majority of high school students say their
class work is not very difficult, and almost two-thirds say they would work
harder if courses were more demanding or interesting, according to an online
nationwide survey of teenagers conducted by the National Governors Association.
The survey, being released on Saturday by the association, also found that
fewer than two-thirds believe that their school had done a good job
challenging them academically or preparing them for college. About the same
number of students said their senior year would be more meaningful if they
could take courses related to the jobs they wanted or if some of their
courses could be counted toward college credit.
Taken together, the electronic responses of 10,378 teenagers painted a
somber picture of how students rate the effectiveness of their schools in
preparing them for the future.
The survey also appears to reinforce findings of federal test results
released on Thursday that showed that high school seniors made almost no
progress in reading and math in the first years of the decade. During that
time, elementary school students made significant gains.
"I might have expected kids to say, 'Don't give us more work; high school is
tough enough,' " said Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat and chairman
of the governors association, which opens a three-day summer meeting here on
"Instead," Mr. Warner said, "what we got are high school students actually
willing to be stretched more. I didn't think we'd get much of that."
The governors' survey was conducted as part of the association's effort to
examine public high schools and devise strategies for improving them. Mr.
Warner has made high school reform his priority as chairman of the
association. His term ends on Monday, when Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a
Republican, is scheduled to succeed him.
While a vast majority of respondents in the survey, 89 percent, said they
intended to graduate, fewer than two-thirds of those said they felt their
schools did an "excellent" or "good" job teaching them how to think
critically and analyze problems.
Even among the remaining 11 percent, a group of 1,122 that includes
teenagers who say they dropped out of high school or are considering
dropping out, only about one in nine cited "school work too hard" as a
reason for not remaining through graduation. The greatest percentage of
those who are leaving, 36 percent, said they were "not learning anything,"
while 24 percent said, "I hate my school."
Experts in education policy said the survey results were consistent with
other studies that have shown gaps between what students learn in high
school and what they need for the years beyond.
"A lot of business people and politicians have been saying that the high
schools are not meeting the needs of kids," said Barbara Kapinus, a senior
policy analyst for the National Education Association. "It's interesting
that kids are saying it, too."
Marc Tucker, president of the National Council on Economic Education, an
organization that helps states and school districts create programs that are
more tailored to contemporary student needs, said he did not believe that
American high schools could adequately prepare students without a
fundamental change in how they operated.
Mr. Tucker said American schools had been too slow to adapt high school
curriculums to the real-life demands of college and the workplace. Except
for that small fraction of highly motivated students with an eye toward
prestigious private colleges and state universities, many more students, he
said, are under the impression that just having a diploma qualifies them for
the rigors of college and the workplace.