Effectiveness seen through students

How effective is public education? Iola’s students give their input.


Jonathen Rodewald

Mrs. Belknap’s Algebra 3 class arrange the planets of the Solar System in order from smallest to largest.

Dyllan Jones, Editor

On November 3, IHS students were sent a poll to determine how they feel about the quality of their schooling. Most of the questions were generalized and did not refer to anything exclusive to Iola schools so that the results, while exclusively affecting people in the building, could assess both the school system and the state of American education as a whole.

The effectiveness poll had a greater student turnout than expected – 157 unique responses. By gender, the majority of answers came from females (62.4 percent). By class, freshmen and seniors were more likely to participate than members of the other two grades. Juniors and sophomores were only underrepresented by a slight margin.

Demographics aside, the survey observes students’ preferred subjects alongside those that they feel will be the most beneficial in the future. It is important to obtain both because a large factor of school’s effectiveness is its ability to inspire students to be lifelong learners. By getting an idea of what the current generation of student likes to learn, and what they think will actually prepare them for life, the two may be compared and contrasted to find whether useful skills are desired skills. In that case, perhaps “useful” classes could be retooled for greater student involvement.

The most popular subjects turned out to be fine arts, “hard” sciences (e.g. physics and chemistry), and English classes. Life skills (e.g. culinary arts, consumer ed.), wood shop, and “soft” sciences (e.g. psychology and sociology) were the least popular.

Analysis between the “favorite classes” and “useful classes” shows that, for many students, the two were one in the same. But life skills, while one of the least popular subjects, is considered by a small majority to be more useful than the other options.

The next category determined the alumni’s aspirations for life after high school. “Attending a four-year college” was the most popular option at 45.2 percent. It was followed by “attending a two-year college” at 27.4 percent and “unsure” at 17.2 percent. Less popular options (all of which were at 1 percent) included applying for military service and joining an art institute. Only one student answered that they would not be attending college, but it can be assumed that some indecisive students are considering immediate entry into the workforce as a potential follow-up option.

An optional short answer question, which asked how school could better prepare students for adult life, saw the participation of 60.5 percent of the student body. Many of its responses were in agreement that schools should better emphasize the importance of life skills such as filling out tax forms, balancing checkbooks, buying houses, paying off bills, and managing bank accounts.

One respondent submitted the following answer: “[…]Give us skills that will help us in real life, not just stuff for college. Not all of us can go to college.”

Since most students answered that they would be going to a college of some kind, preparing students for the college life and college classes that will immediately follow their high school education is necessary. Conversely, the percentage of students who claimed uncertainty, or selected an option other than some form of college, was roughly 20.4 percent. Most short answers argued in some way that everyday life skills are essential to students, and some stressed that school should encourage critical thought over memorization skills which are meant to prepare them for upcoming tests.

The following data indicates just how essential students believe life skills teaching is. Although most students polled – 93 percent – stated that they are confident that they can achieve their career goals in life, only 56.7 percent answered “yes” when asked whether or not they could live on their own after high school with minimal parental assistance. Notably, very few respondents expressed interest in career paths that strongly relate to common core subjects such as social studies, math, and English. Popular career paths among the student body included medical, engineering, and law fields.

Although much of this information is presumed to be reliable, a few nonsensical responses had to be omitted over the course of the survey. These answers may have caused some slight discrepancies (some individuals responded with jokes or blatantly contradictory answers), but they were neither prominent nor consistent enough to severely impact or nullify the data.

Late adolescence and early adulthood are tumultuous periods in a person’s life. High schoolers are thrust into a world for which competence in every task requires experience; if the results of this survey are anything to go by, some students do not have the experience they require to survive on their own. However, if the high degree of career confidence mentioned earlier is grounded in reality, up-and-coming adults will have at least one leg to walk on when they are out on their own.