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"Hope" Matters in Education

by Shane J. Lopez

We launched the Gallup Student Poll in 2009 to measure the hope, engagement, and well-being of American students, grades 5-12. In the last three years, nearly one million students have completed the poll. Based on these data and independent research findings from around the world, Gallup now knows that hope predicts which students show up for school and how well they do. In a recent Gallup study of freshmen at a large high school in the Midwest, hopeful students completed more credits and had a better report card -- by almost a letter grade -- than less hopeful ones.

Hope is also a strong predictor of performance in college students. Most importantly, hope -- the sum total of ideas, energy, and excitement for goals -- makes students more likely to graduate. It seems that a psychological investment in the future pays off today. In my ongoing longitudinal study of college student retention, hope has proven to be a strong and unique predictor of a student receiving a college diploma.

Though many people may think hope is a "soft" measure, it turns out it's the hardest and most accurate we have. For that reason, we have taken a close look at the patterns of responses to the hope items on the Gallup Student Poll. Turns out that only half of our students are hopeful. Those who aren't still believe in the American Dream, starting with and finishing school, and then getting a good job, but they have no idea how to make it happen for themselves. They are certain they will graduate from school, but confess they don't know how to get good grades. They are optimistic about landing a good job, but are uncertain about how to deal with the challenges inherent to doing so.

I blame us -- their parents and educators -- for not preparing them better. While we busily get our students ready for the next big test, including state measures of achievement and the ACT or SAT, we can lose sight of what really matters to our students -- the future. When we help students take a peek at a future that requires more education, they are more likely to act like good students today.

It's not all bad news when it comes to the typical student's outlook. The vast majority of American students believe that the future will be better than the present. But, at the same time, they lack the strategic thinking needed to overcome the many obstacles they will face between now and then; between their current life and their version of the American Dream.

We can help today's young students to become more hopeful. We need to challenge every student to find at least one goal they are excited about, we need to teach them how to develop multiple pathways to achieve that goal, and then we need to help them overcome the obstacles they encounter until they can do it on their own. At the very least, we can create a community-wide discussion about our children's futures by having students complete the Gallup Student Poll (at no cost) during the fall 2012 administration. Go to our website to find out how your school or district can start using the Gallup Student Poll to jump start the hope discussion in your community.


Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., author of Making Hope Happen, is the world's leading researcher on hope. He is also one of the most vocal advocates of the psychological reform of America's education system.

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