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High School Students and Academic Boredom

Today's high school kids say they are bored in class because they dislike the material and experience inadequate teacher interaction, according to a special report from Indiana University's High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE). The findings show that 2 out of 3 kids are bored in class every day, while 17 percent say they are bored in every class.

More than 81,000 kids responded to the annual survey. HSSSE was administered in 110 high schools, ranging in size from 37 kids to nearly 4,000, across 26 states.

According to the director of the project, the reasons high school kids claim they are bored are as significant as the boredom itself. The finding that nearly one in three respondents (31 percent) indicate he or she is bored in class due to "no interaction with teacher" is a troubling result.

So, in a high school class, 1 out of 3 kids is sitting there and not interacting with a teacher on a daily basis and maybe never. They're not having those interactions, which we know are critical for student engagement with learning and with high schools.

Some of the key findings include:

• Fewer than 2 percent of kids say they are never bored in high school.
• Nearly 40 percent felt bored because the material "wasn't relevant to me."
• Seventy-five percent of kids surveyed say they are bored in class because the "material wasn't interesting."

The lack of adult support may play a role in student disengagement from school. While 78 percent of kids responding agree or strongly agree that at least "one adult in my school cares about me and knows me well," 22 percent have considered dropping out of school. Of those kids who have considered dropping out, approximately 1 out of 4 indicated that one reason for considering this option was that "no adults in the school cared about me."

The fact that this many kids have considered dropping out of high school makes the numbers of dropouts that we actually see across the country -- and the supposed dropout crisis that we have -- not surprising. I think schools definitely need to pay a lot more attention to what kids are thinking and the reasons why they're dropping out.

The high dropout rate may also be related to the finding that half of the respondents said they have skipped school; 34 percent said they had skipped school either "once or twice," and 16 percent said they had skipped "many times." The kids who skip school are far more likely to consider dropping out and that this finding may suggest a reason for schools to reconsider how they handle discipline for kids who skip.

Among the other findings:

• The survey found that kids aren't spending a lot of time on homework. While 80 percent of the kids surveyed indicated that doing written homework is either "somewhat important," "very important" or a "top priority," 43 percent reported spending an hour or less doing homework each week. Similarly, 73 percent of the kids said reading and studying for class is either "somewhat important," "very important" or a "top priority." But 55 percent said they spent an hour or less per week reading and studying for class.

• Kids said activities in which they learn with and from peers are the most exciting and engaging. More than 80 percent of kids responded that "discussion and debate" are "a little," "somewhat" or "very much" exciting and engaging, and more than 70 percent responded in this way about "group projects." By contrast, just 52 percent said teacher lecture is "a little," "somewhat" or "very much" exciting and engaging.

• Seventy-three percent of kids who have considered dropping out said it was because "I didn't like the school." Sixty-one percent said, "I didn't like the educators," and 60 percent said, "I didn't see the value in the work I was being asked to do."

Even though kids may not be putting in time outside of class, they expect to earn a diploma and go to college. Nearly 3 out of 4 kids responded that they go to school for that very reason. The lack of time spent studying and reading may work against such a goal.

Kids may not be doing the work to get them to that point. Or, they're not interested so much in what they're doing in their classes as they are in the goal of getting a diploma and going on to college.

The size of the sample certainly means that high schools from across the country can draw some conclusions about their own student bodies. A administrators consider restructuring programs, the HSSSE data can be especially valuable.

I think this brings critical student voices into reform efforts and into conversations about the structures and practices of individual schools.

This data here is saying, well maybe we need to look at this in a preventive way. So that kids who skip school, we need to bring them in and talk to them about why they're skipping school and are they considering dropping out. Because those kids who are skipping school most frequently are at the highest risk--it seems--of dropping out because of the amount of times they consider dropping out.

The survey indicates kids are just trying to get the diploma and leave. It's as if the focus is so much on getting that degree, ending high school, and going to college, that the focus on learning is actually lost. If they're not interacting with their learning, if they're not feeling that what they're learning is relevant, if they're not engaged in it, there's no seeds planted for that passion for learning or exploration which is what would drive them to college and the next stage. So I think a large part of this is 'what is the purpose of schooling?' Is the purpose of schooling in high school to get children out with a degree and move them on to some level of postsecondary education, or is the point of high school to involve them in some way in learning and plant a seed for discovery in education that actually carried into whatever they do next?

Interaction with educators is important. We know that those interactions are critical for learning and critical for participation in school. If only two out of three kids are having some interaction, then we know there's a large chunk of kids being left out and being left behind.

It's the reasons why kids are bored and the implications of what that means that they're bored that are very important. The big thing is that they're finding the material not interesting. Three out of four kids say they're bored because the material is not interesting. That's critical in an environment in which there's so much emphasis on student achievement and accountability. If kids are not finding the material interesting, we can say they're not likely to learn it, and they're bored with it, and achievement is not likely to go anywhere.

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