First-Ever Gallup Student Poll Shows That One-Third of America’s Young People Are Struggling or Suffering

May 5, 2009

Gallup, America’s Promise Alliance and the American Association of School Administrators incorporate youth voice into national dialogue on dropout prevention and college readiness

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Washington, D.C. – A poll released today by Gallup and America’s Promise Alliance shows that more than one-third of students surveyed in grades 5 – 12 are struggling or suffering, and half (50 percent) are not hopeful, as quantified by Gallup researchers. The findings mark the beginning of what will quickly become the largest-ever survey of American children, and will help school systems and communities benchmark progress and determine solutions to the dropout crisis. Currently, one in three American students does not graduate from high school.

“When more than 1.2 million young people drop out of high school every year, everyone needs to work together to address the crisis – educators, parents, business and community leaders,” said Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance. “For too long the voice of youth has been missing from the national dialogue. This poll gives insights into the daily experiences, challenges and aspirations of our young people, so that we can better identify ways to meet their needs and help them be successful.”

The Gallup Student Poll measures the hope, engagement and well-being of students in grades 5–12 through a new, groundbreaking survey administered anonymously in America’s schools. Gallup will conduct the poll twice annually, in March and October. The national results will be used by America’s Promise Alliance, the American Association of School Administrators and others in designing appropriate responses that support youth.

The findings provide local and national leaders with insights into the perspectives of their students. School system administrators and community leaders across the country will use the results to benchmark changes in local attitudes and design tailored interventions to better meet the needs of young people. Expert strategy consultants from The Purpose Institute will help identify communications and solutions for local communities.

“The national dropout problem is not just a teacher, parent or principal problem, and it can never be solved from 60,000 feet by highly politicized national initiatives. It has to be solved locally, one school at a time and one student at a time, and it is the job of the whole community,” said Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup. “That is why we have invented needed new technology, which closely tracks student states-of-mind based upon nontraditional question items that have high correlation to graduation, so they can be used by all community groups to better focus their strategies.”

In March 2009, the Gallup Student Poll surveyed more than 70,000 students in grades 5–12, located in 18 states and the District of Columbia. More than 330 schools and 58 school districts participated. The results were verified by polling a nationally representative sample.

For this initiative, Gallup measured three key metrics – hope, engagement and well-being – that research has shown have a meaningful impact on educational outcomes and more importantly, can be improved through deliberate action by educators, school administrators, community leaders and others. Questions focused on:

  • Hope – the ideas and energy students have for the future;
  • Engagement – the level of student involvement in and enthusiasm for school; and
  • Well-being – how students think about and experience their lives.

“The Gallup Student Poll provides valuable insights that will help school and community leaders shape their strategies to help all children succeed,” said Daniel A. Domenech, Ph.D., executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, a supporting sponsor of the Gallup Student Poll. “While hundreds of schools already participate in the poll, we encourage even more schools to participate when the poll is next conducted in October 2009.”

Findings from the poll include:

  • Nearly two in three students in grades 5–12 surveyed (63 percent) are thriving; more than one-third are struggling or suffering. Struggling and suffering students evaluate life in negative terms, struggle to meet daily demands in life and lack some of the resources needed to succeed.
  • Half of those surveyed (50 percent) reported answers indicating they are not hopeful, with one-third (33 percent) indicating that they are stuck, while 17 percent feel discouraged.
  • More than nine in 10 (94 percent) of those surveyed say they will graduate. Those who are close to their parents/guardians, or who have a caring adult in their life are more likely to believe they will graduate.
  • More than eight in 10 (86 percent) believe they will find a good job awaiting them after graduation.
  • Eight in 10 (80 percent) said they smiled or laughed at school yesterday, while seven in 10 (70 percent) said they learned or did something interesting at school. Just half (52 percent) said they were treated with respect all day.

NOTE: Findings are from a poll of 70,078 U.S. public school students, grades 5–12, who responded to an online poll conducted in school classrooms by Gallup researchers, March 2–31, 2009.

As part of the solution to the dropout challenge, America’s Promise Alliance has convened 36 high-level summits in cities nationwide – bringing together more than 14,000 mayors and governors, business owners, child advocates, school administrators, students and parents to develop workable solutions and action plans. More than 70 additional summits will take place in the next year. Already, cities and states that held summits last year have started implementing changes based on the discussions – from an innovative career exploration program in Tulsa to the creation of a $10 million fund to improve ACT scores in Detroit – and early results are promising.

“Research shows that the more support young people have, both inside and outside of the classroom, the more likely they are to stay in school and succeed in life,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “We need to ensure that children have caring adults in their lives, feel safe at school and have the medical care they need to be healthy – all essentials to making sure they are not distracted from their education. We know what works, but we need to provide it to young people and measure its impact on how they view their lives.”

For a copy of the full report or more details about the upcoming polls, visit


About America’s Promise Alliance
America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s largest partnership alliance comprised of corporations, nonprofit organizations, foundations, policymakers, advocacy and faith groups committed to ensuring that children receive the fundamental resources – the Five Promises – they need to lead successful, healthy and productive lives and build a stronger society. Building on the legacy of our founder General Colin Powell, the Alliance believes a child’s success is grounded in experiencing the Five Promises – caring adults; safe places; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others – at home, in school and in the community. For more information, visit

About the American Association of School Administrators
The American Association of School Administrators (AASA), founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and throughout the world. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, visit

About Gallup
Gallup has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup’s reputation for delivering relevant, timely, and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel is the cornerstone of the organization. Gallup employs many of the world’s leading scientists in management, economics, psychology, and sociology, and our consultants assist leaders in identifying and monitoring behavioral economic indicators worldwide. Gallup’s Education Practice helps hundreds of school districts select and develop more effective educators through measurement tools, courses and strategic advisory services. Gallup’s 2,000 professionals deliver services at client organizations, through the Web, at Gallup University’s campuses, and in 40 offices around the world. For more information, go to