Serious senioritis? Fewer students say courses are meaningful

Parents, take note. The disgruntled dinner-table sentiments of your high-schooler are being statistically documented.

As part of its "Monitoring the Future" study, which has been surveying adolescents on a range of topics since 1975, the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research recently reported that high school seniors are taking a dimmer view of the value of their course work, compared with seniors surveyed in the 1980s and '90s.

The study is based on a nationally representative sample of high school seniors from public and private institutions. Students rated the value of their schoolwork in three categories (see chart at right).

While 40 percent of high school seniors reported that their schoolwork was "often or always meaningful" in 1983, a mere 28 percent offered that response in 2000.

Meanwhile, the percentage of students who reported that their courses were "quite or very interesting" dropped to 21 in 2000 from 35 percent in 1983.

Even among A-students, fewer and fewer forecast that their schoolwork will be very important later in life.

These declines, noted across the board, were largely independent of the type of high school program - academic, vocational, or technical - the students were enrolled in.

The University of Michigan report arrives on the heels of a decade of educational reform and school restructuring designed to boost student interest and achievement.

As a remedy, some scholars suggest that the professional community should play a more active role in emphasizing the importance of learning to students, as teachers are often bogged down with administrative details or handling student-behavior problems.

Notably, the Michigan study found that declining interest does not equate with declining effort. Over the decades studied, students reported putting a consistent level of work into their assignments.

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