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How Well Are Schools Doing? Not Great, Say Most Adults and Teens

Adults and adolescents in the United States say schools are not up to the task of preparing children for a successful future, concludes a new report from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that studies the impact of technology on youth.

More than half of adults (58 percent) and adolescents (57 percent) said that K-12 public schools are doing a “poor” or “just fair” job of educating children, the report found.

The nationally representative survey of 2,000 likely voters and 1,227 kids ages 12-17 was conducted by Lake Research Partners and Echelon Insights in November and December on behalf of Common Sense Media.

The report comes as public schools are dealing with backlash from certain groups of parents, persistent staff shortages, troubling levels of student academic achievement and motivation, growing youth mental health challenges, and decreasing staff morale.

The adults and teens who took the survey understand that there are an array of problems that are creating challenges in public schools, according to the Common Sense Media report. For adults, these issues include: students not reading at grade level, teacher shortages due to burnout and low pay, bullying, and student mental health struggles.

Teens pointed to student mental health struggles as the top education challenge, along with bullying, low teacher pay, students falling behind academically, and book bans, the report found.

Shreeya Gogia, 18, a senior at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, Texas, told Education Week she would be among those who rated public schools as doing a “just fair” job.

“A lot of students feel like we aren’t being prepared for the real world,” said Gogia, who is a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ student mental health network. “There are a lot of classes that students are forced to take that don’t really give them any educational value, and there’s not enough support at school, whether it’s through mental health or via tutoring programs. A lot of students are left to fend for themselves.”

Shari Camhi, the superintendent for the Baldwin Union Free School District in New York and immediate past president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said schools are doing well considering the environment in which they’re operating.

“I think that we do an excellent job with the funding that we have and the resources that we have and the restrictions that we have,” Camhi said. “I think if we have the ability to change policy and increase funding, we would just do an even better job than we’re already doing.”

One-third of adults and one-fifth of kids put improving or reforming the education system at the top of their lists of most important recommendations that would improve the lives of children, according to the report.

Adults rate top priorities for addressing students’ needs

When given a list of solutions for schools to better address students’ needs, adults rated the following as the top five that would have the biggest impact: providing individualized learning plans based on each student’s needs; increasing teacher pay; providing additional counseling or social-emotional and mental health support; reducing class sizes; and improving teacher preparation.

More testing and setting higher standards for students to meet were at the bottom of the list, the report found.

Empowering students and teachers to speak up and share their ideas on how to improve their schools will be beneficial, too, Gogia said.

“Creating more of a culture where students and teachers feel like they can connect with the administration, I think, is a great way to increase the ratings [of public education],” she added.

While it would be impossible to provide individualized learning plans for every student, Camhi said, she agrees that “broadening the opportunities for students is not only possible but is exceptionally important.”

Many schools already have deployed some of the solutions that the survey respondents rated highly, Camhi said. For instance, in her district, high school students have the opportunity to take courses relevant to careers they’re interested in, which “fits under individualized learning,” she said. Her district also has a wellness center—which provides medical, mental and emotional health services, and health education—that’s open to all students and their families and is free of cost.

Regarding teacher pay and teacher shortages, Camhi said “beating up teachers constantly in the press” is not helpful in encouraging other people to go into the profession.

“We need to stop politicizing schools,” Camhi said. “We need to embrace the excellent work that schools are doing and put additional resources to support the work that’s going on in our schools.”

“I think we need to be more positive, more optimistic, if we want to solve some of the issues that are sitting in front of us,” she added.

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