student engagement report coverEducation is a $600 billion-a-year enterprise, but the investments states make in education will not benefit students unless they are physically and mentally present in the classroom. Too many students are not. According to Gallup, nearly half are actively disengaged from school, and students often cite disengagement as the critical factor in decisions to drop out. In its new report, “A State of Engagement,” the National Association of State Boards of Education asks policymakers to promote student engagement through a suite of policy changes.

The product of a recent NASBE study group, “A State of Engagement” explores the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of student engagement and the role peers, educators, school environments, parents and communities play in helping students become invested in their own learning. The report finds that an educational system that more meaningfully engages students will require state policymakers to act. The report recommends five policy actions:

  1. Promote measures of educational success that emphasize student engagement. What gets measured? Whose success is measured, and how?
  2. Back an educator preparation, learning and support continuum that empowers school leaders, teachers and other staff to facilitate more engaging experiences for students. States can begin by ensuring professional development, licensure, and evaluation emphasize strategies for better student engagement.
  3. Advance school climate guidelines that promote healthy, safe and engaging learning environments for all students, standards that are more conducive to student engagement.
  4. Invest in school structures that help personalize student learning and thereby expand student engagement. This includes revisioning where, when, by whom and how learning is delivered.
  5. Encourage collaboration between schools, parents and other community stakeholders to address students’ comprehensive needs.

Several states have made great progress toward these goals: Illinois routinely gathers student feedback on school learning conditions and climate, while Maryland is developing a statewide measurement system to assess school safety and student engagement. North Carolina and Delaware have established professional learning communities that foster teacher collaboration. Kansas has made headway on developing social, emotional and character development standards. Kentucky and others have invested in personalized learning strategies, and West Virginia and Connecticut seek out constructive community partnerships and have established structures for more open communications.

“Promoting student engagement is no easy task,” writes Ace Parsi, report author and NASBE director of deeper learning. “By approaching the issue cohesively and comprehensively, state policymakers can ensure significantly more opportunities to engage students and prepare them for college, career and civic success.”