What Teens Want From Their Schools

A National Survey of High School Student Engagement

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Among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with the school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the schoolwork they are asked to do. In What Teens Want from Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Crux Research tackle the question of what truly motivates and engages students in high school.

Our nationally representative survey of over two thousand high schoolers in traditional public, charter, and private schools finds that nearly all students report being motivated to apply themselves academically, but they also primarily engage in school through different levers. Specifically, we identified six subgroups of students with varying engagement profiles: (Hover over each illustration to read their characteristics!)

Subject Lovers


Hand Raisers

Social Butterflies

Teacher Responders

Deep Thinkers

We’ve heard it a million times: a “one size fits all” education system all but guarantees that some students will be left out and ultimately left behind. Given that students are motivated to learn via different levers, student engagement and choice—among schools, teachers, courses, delivery options, instructional strategies, and so on—need to go hand in hand. 

This report was made possible through the generous support of the American Federation for Children Growth Fund, the Walton Family Foundation, and our sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.


June 27, 2017
Foreword and Executive Summary
June 27, 2017
Complete Survey Results
June 27, 2017
Information Graphic