Improving Learning by Shifting the Focus of Education


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“Maybe it’s time that we shift our focus from trying to teach students to be successful at school and instead focus on teaching students to be successful at life.”


The Issue: High School Student Success

Student life encompasses more than homework, quizzes, and tests. It is friendships, relationships, extracurricular clubs, athletics, and everything in between. Studies have been identifying many factors that affect a student’s academic performance for years. The most important factors might not even be a student’s IQ, teachers, or school environment. In fact, a child’s ability to deal with family, social, and personal issues might have more of an impact on their academic performance. Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school. In college, statistics reveal that 4 year graduation rate is less than 50%.

Despite all of the resources being used to try and improve student academic performance, the U.S. K-12 education system is ranked only 17th in the world. Finland’s educational system  is ranked 1st in the world. It focuses on more free time for students and a decreased emphasis on grades. Students are encouraged to learn more about themselves and their capabilities, rather than learning technical skills. They spend less time in school, do less homework, but they seem to learn more and place higher in world academic tests than U.S. students.

The Proposal

We have known for a long time now that the education system is not working for our students. It might be because we have been focusing on the wrong factors. For the last 20 years government initiatives have continued to try to improve student learning through more difficult and technical curriculum (recently the common core and STEM initiatives). Maybe it’s time that we shift our focus from trying to teach students to be successful at school and instead focus on teaching students to be successful at life.

The Experiment

This summer, masters and PhD researchers from the Leadership Society of Arizona (LSA) at Arizona State University created a curriculum that focused on helping students simplify life. The curriculum helps students to understand more about who they are, relationships, people, and other factors that determine success, etc. The curriculum is based off of a proven leadership/management approach that has been tested in business for the last 25 years. The Leadership approach has been implemented in 1900+ tests in 33 states and 9 countries, on more than $6B of services. The goal of the high school summer program was to identify if teaching students about how to be successful at life and helping them with their personal issues, can that help the students improve their behavior, enjoy life more, and increase their ability to learn.

The Results

High School Student Success
Instructor with Students

The high school summer program results were incredible. After a week of getting to know the students and collecting data, the researchers identified some powerful trends. 71% of the students reported that they feel less stressed, and 60% said they feel both happier and more accountable. The students rated the course  a 9.8/10 rating. 95% of the students’ parents identified behavioral changes in the students with just one week of education. All the students felt that they could perform better academically with due to the education. Some of the students identified the following from the high school summer program:

Now I know that things happen for a reason, my family is unique, and all the struggles have helped me become who I am.” – Noemi Valdez (age 15)

“I learned that success is not an accident.” – Victor Solis (age 15)

“[The program] wasn’t just about ASU; it was about me, about the people around me, about the future.” – Diana Perez (age 17)

“[The program] was so enjoyable. I wish all school was like this” – Morgan Percy-Fine (age 15)

Overall this course has helped me know who I am..” – Christopher Kim (age 14)

“[The program] was helpful. I went in as a punishment, but I am glad I came.” Matt Blasé (age 16)



It seems that society has forgotten what the goal of education is. Education should prepare a child to be successful at life. It should enable a child to survive in the world and add value to society. Due to the business side of education, we have placed more value on math, science, and language, instead of people. The goal is now to teach students how to place highly on standardized test, get good grades, obtain scholarships, and write college application letters.  The goal should be focused on teaching students to add value to society, to have successful relationships, and to live a happy life. It is time we refocus and remember education is learning about reality and how to live, not grades.

For more information: sign up for the conference in October and visit our website for more information on the high school summer program.

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