Recent years have seen growing concern among U.S. employers that schools in America are not adequately equipping students with “21st-century skills” — real-world problem-solving, critical thinking, and skilled communication. Gallup’s 2013 research with Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation supports the importance of developing such skills in school, as young adults who say they had opportunities to develop such skills report higher-quality work lives.

This report presents results from Gallup’s research on the conditions that lead to high-quality learning environments and promote student achievement. It features several data sources, including results from the 2013 Gallup Student Poll, administered to more than 600,000 students in grades 5 through 12, as well as larger-scale studies on the central role of emotional engagement in the learning process. Through decades of research on the characteristics of high-performing teachers, principals, and schools, Gallup has gained unparalleled expertise on the “human” elements — including a focus on strengths development and engagement in the classroom — that drive student success.

These elements are often overlooked in the effort to “fix” America’s education system, but there is growing recognition that unless U.S. schools can better align learning strategies and objectives with fundamental aspects of human nature, they will always struggle to help students achieve their full potential.

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