The most sobering aspect of a new survey of Oregon high school students is how much their views align with those of their elders.
Each generation wishes for future generations to be better off. Yet Oregon’s high school population feels the same divides and discontents as the rest of the country.
There is a divide between those high schoolers who are satisfied with their lot in life and those who are not. There is a yearning for greater respect and for greater involvement in the governmental decisions that affect their lives. There is widespread concern about access to mental health care.
These issues are revealed in the newly released “State of Our Schools: Examining Oregon’s High Schools Through Students’ Eyes,” which might be the first statewide student survey conducted by Oregon students themselves. More than 2,200 high schoolers participated in an online survey or focus groups.
Oregon Student Voice, which is open to students in sixth through 12th grades, conducted the study with the assistance of two respected partners — the Chalkboard Project and DHM Research. Participation was voluntary, so the statistics might not carry the same weight as randomized surveys. But the conclusions remain relevant, especially because they were written by students.
High schoolers are insightful. They know who’s a good teacher and who’s not. They recognize whether discipline is administered fairly, equitably and consistently. They care whether the school administration — all the way up to the school board — heeds their ideas.
As a society, we know that students who feel valued and engaged are more likely to carry those attitudes into civic life as adults. In contrast, the Oregon Student Voice report states: “Exclusionary cliques, social tensions and bullying are all present within schools. Students assert that those who do not fit into the typical high school student mold do not receive the respect, stability and support needed to succeed in their school. Students believe that high schools are oriented toward helping those already on a path to success, leaving behind everyone else.”
Among the research findings:
▪ Most students enjoy high school, but 32 percent cite a lack of trust and mutual respect in their schools.
▪ 40 percent consider access to mental health resources to be the most important issue facing K-12 policymakers. The No. 2 issue, identified by 22 percent, is career and technical education.
▪ 77 percent of students feel engaged in class. Among those who do not have post-high school plans — college, trade school or the military — that figure drops to 49 percent.
▪ 76 percent have a teacher or other school staff member whom they trust as a mentor. Again, that figure drops significantly among students who do not plan to attend college.
▪ 81 percent say their teachers are good, but only 51 percent think the content of required courses is relevant to their futures.
▪ Students favor teachers who welcome feedback and adapt their teaching accordingly. The report states: “Students want to learn in interactive, collaborative and hands-on environments. Students are critical of rote memorization and inflexible approaches that favor higher-achieving students while leaving others behind.”
The research contains many positives about students’ views of their education. But their concerns should generate a statewide call to action. Otherwise, the divides that roil our state and nation will continue to manifest themselves.