More than 'getting by' Teens and school: Survey finds high aspirations among American young people.

March 07, 1997

THE YOUNGER generation gets its share of knocks. But teen-agers should also get a respectful hearing on a subject dear to their hearts -- the quality of the schools they attend. Public Agenda, a public opinion research group, has released the results of a survey of teen-agers' assessments of school. Adults can learn much from this report.

Many responses are unsurprising. A large majority -- 85 percent -- say they can't wait for school days to end, while 82 percent say the best thing about school is being with their friends. It's worrisome that half of high schoolers say they are not fully challenged by their studies and fewer than half think it important to take biology, chemistry, physics, calculus or American history. Fewer than one-fourth see much reason to study Shakespeare.

Pushing deeper, the researchers concluded that these responses didn't signify indifference or hostility to education, since 96 percent say it is important to go on to college and most of them have ambitions that clearly depend on a college degree. More telling is the high value students put on interaction with adults.

Students complain that it's too easy to slide by in school; they like teachers who don't let them. When pressed to name the one change that would make the most difference in learning more, "having more good teachers" easily tops the list. When researchers pressed to define the qualities of a good teacher, they found "a yearning for higher expectations and closer, almost relentless, monitoring by schools and teachers." The question taxpayers ought to ask is obvious: Why isn't that happening now?

And parents? Their role is one of the most important factors in a child's success in school. More than three-quarters of the teen-agers surveyed say their parents or guardians know what they are studying in school, and almost as many say their parents "pressure" them to get good grades. But in many cases their parents' interest in school performance begins and ends with grades. Few teen-agers said they talked regularly with their families about what they are actually learning. Maybe that explains the lack of excitement toward higher-level courses that require more effort and carry a higher risk of lower grades.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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