Let's say I'm a website designer for a company. I'm hired to produce a new website, a better website. It's hard to say exactly what defines a good website and I don't want to have to put together a huge poll of users asking for feedback. I just want to work with what I have available. Namely the analytics my ISP or Google or some other company provides.
One of those can be loosely defined as "engagement". Are users staying on the site longer? Are they clicking things? Do they visit more than just the homepage?
In an ideal situation, you'd hope the answer would be "yes" to many of these things. However, just because the answers are "yes" doesn't mean that it's a good website design. Rather, it could imply a very bad design; a website that is too confusing causing people to have to hunt for the information, making them click on more things for more pages and staying longer.
So simply looking at a situation in terms of a metric like this doesn't give the whole picture.
And the same applies for education where student "engagement" is often used as a proxy for good education. There's good reason for this. If students are engaged, studies show they retain more of the material. However, if the material is poorly constructed, then "engagement" may be more of a desperate attempt to rectify this. Worse, if the material is downright wrong, the students will likely still retain it thus, being a net negative on their education.
It seems several teachers in Louisiana don't understand this concept. In a stunning letter unearthed by Zach Kopplin, teachers state that a law passed in 2006 which led to "...students invariably get more involved in the lesson which leads to better discussion and in turn to a higher level of achievement...".
Sounds good, right?
The only problem is that the law has opened the door for Creationism, climate change denial, and any other pseudo-scientific trash politicians want to sneak into the classroom which is what these teachers are championing.
But this isn't how engagement, at least as a meaningful metric for academics, works. I recall a discussion in which I and many of my classmates were very involved in in high school. The teacher (thankfully not a science or history teacher) was explaining why she thought the moon landing was a hoax. Oddly enough, this was one of my first big encounters with pseudo-science and it was what led me personally, to do more research. It's what introduced me to Phil Plait's "Bad Astronomy". So in this one case, it ended up being a positive. However, a few years later in my American History class we had to do presentations. I did mine on the space race and moon landing. Wouldn't you know it, there were questions about whether it had been faked.
Although my History teacher wasn't the one espousing moon hoax nonsense, I recall other spirited discussions in his class regarding the Kennedy assassination. This teacher was a big fan of conspiracy theories regarding this event. And students knew it. Thus, many times students would try to get him off topic, wasting valuable class time, by engaging him on this topic. This is another example of how student involvement can be a poor metric.
Thus, it is quite disappointing that so many teachers would defend bad science by perverting what can be a useful metric. But as the computer geeks say, "Garbage in - Garbage out."