Why We Should Care What Students Think

Mother and child walking on road.
Mother and child walking on road.

For the 55.5 million K-12 students in the U.S., the vast majority of their waking hours are spent in a classroom. Many parents attempt to find out about their child's day when they come home, but getting details about what happened hours ago in school isn't easy. Most parents will tell you that their child's answer to, "So, how was school today?" is usually, "Okay." At the end of most days, parents know very little about what happened in their child's classroom.

If parents ask their child's teacher or principal for information about their child's school experience -- which lessons their child finds most interesting, which teachers are most engaging, how their child feels while in school -- they might get a puzzled response. Most schools (and most school districts) aren't in the business of asking students what they think. I believe they really do care, but they don't show it by asking students for their opinions. Not asking students for their opinions is a missed opportunity, because no one knows better about how school is going than its target audience -- the students themselves.

If each student were given the chance to share what they think about subjects, teachers, and school in general, we could build a record of the critical people and events that contribute to each student's successes and failures. This "educational black box" could be used to explain and predict student outcomes.

Through the Gallup Student Poll, we have asked more than 1 million students about their daily experiences at school and their lives in general. Specifically, we zeroed in on the hope, engagement, and well-being of American children. These students' responses offer valuable insights that should guide discussions and decisions about the future of education in this country. Insights like:

  • American students are confident in their abilities to do well academically, but they lack key strategies needed to actually achieve their goals.

  • Most students feel safe at school, but they don't feel appreciated. They long for more praise and recognition when they do well on their schoolwork.
  • Most importantly, students are more than willing to share what they think if we ask them the right questions.
  • Thanks to technology and efficient data-gathering techniques, it's also quicker than you might think. Gallup was able to gather the insights above by asking 20 well-researched questions that take about eight minutes to answer online. The results are available to schools soon after the students complete the survey, rather than months later.

    As parents and schools get better at asking students what they think, they could develop a more detailed understanding of effective teaching. Gallup research shows that influential teachers give students two things that make a big difference: care and encouragement. Maybe parents should start by asking their children these two questions:

    1. How did your teacher show you he cared for you today?
  • What did your teacher do to encourage you to do your best work today?
  • If parents and schools truly listen to the answers, they can determine which teachers and what educational strategies can make a difference in children's lives.