$420 Million in Unrealized ROI and 35% of Students K to 12 left Behind

Updated: May 30, 2020

$420 Million in Unrealized ROI and 35% of Students K to 12 left Behind – Should we care about Student Engagement?

Is it worth talking about? Education systems around the globe – everywhere – are seeing the same massive decline in student engagement. For the past 50 years, fewer and fewer students care about school, and more and more have difficulty defining a purpose or finding meaning in it.

Return on Investment (ROI) is the amount of return we get by making an investment. There is positive ROI when an investment turns a profit, and negative ROI when the investment costs more than the return.

Since education is about student learning, then learning (not teaching, or education systems, or management, or bureaucracy, or tests) is the ROI we want as a society. We further know that learning cannot be achieved by being disengaged with school, so learning and engagement in school are linked. It looks like this...

Education is about Learning; therefore, as Learning takes place through Engagement (you cannot learn if you are not engaged), then Learning and Education writ large are about


Here is a question: what is an acceptable number of students to disregard and not care for?

Our system (not our teachers and school site educators) is set up to have ONLY 34% of high school students engaged in school by the time they reach their final years.

This is the High School statistic, and...this is World-wide.

So... across the globe, students start school much more engaged than they leave: Approximately 95% of students in Kindergarten are fully engaged (fully turned on to learning) in school, globally. These are the same students who dwindle to the 34% who are still engaged by their last years in high school… is it their fault? No.

The fault is the system we built 200 years ago to feed an industrial machine with standardized workers. That same system chugs along, and like a good industrial machine, and the chaff, the 66% of students who are disengaged by the end of high school, are left behind.

Imagine an orchestra that spends 13 years cultivating musicians to have only 34% of them really and fully interested in playing music in their final years. Terrible system.

Or, a sports team that spends time and money developing players for 13 years only to have 66% of them ask to sit on the bench during game time. Terrible system.

When was the last time you were really disengaged and still learned deeply and fully and well?


In our little province of New Brunswick, we spend 1.2 Billion a year on education. By taking all the engagement levels K to 12 together (95% to 34% *see diagram above) we arrive at an ‘average’ engagement rate of 65% K to 12.

So, if learning is the purpose of education and learning is directly linked to engagement, then our system is currently set up to leave ‘unrealized’ or lost, 35% of our yearly education budget which is $420 000 000 dollars. 420 Million! And 35% of our kids K to 12 on the shop floor…. Is this acceptable?

Status quo says it is acceptable. Status quo says we must accept that across the globe students become disengaged and we lose them by high school. Status quo feathers its own nest. Status quo needs to get out of the way or read the research and become part of the solution. There is a solution.

The answer is not hard nor is it complex. Focus on multi-tiered engagement. That means create self-starting, self-directed learners who personalize their learning, who are in charge of their learning. Provide multi-tiered engagement through active learning, change the standards, regulations, policies and procedures that handcuff educators to do things that don’t work, and then we are on the path to recovery. It is that simple. But status quo… remember, they don’t like to look at the depth of why but would rather gain efficiencies in a system that leaves the chaff behind.

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