ChapterPDF Available

Student Voices In School And District Improvement: Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships For Student Success And Social Justice

Authors:

Figures

Content may be subject to copyright.
Student Voice 1
Running Head: STUDENT VOICE
Student Voices in School and District Improvement:
Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships for Student Success and Social Justice
Shelley Zion
University of Colorado, Denver
Sheryl Petty
Independent Educational Equity Consultant
Student Voice 2
Abstract
Students are affected daily by educational decisions made by adults inside and outside of school
but their voices often go unheard in the debates about schooling and school reform. This chapter
presents a continuum of practices to engage youth in educational reform efforts within school
systems based on the assertion that such efforts can be strengthened by deepening educators’ and
reformers’ awareness of the multiple ways that authentic youth voice and engagement can be
achieved. With this information, the authors provide educators with a framework that
demonstrates 1) how students need to be respected as thoughtful participants, 2) that adult
practitioners need to learn from and with students, and 3) from this place, issues of equity,
discrimination, and structural inequality, might be addressed.
Student Voice 3
Student Voices in School and District Improvement:
Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships for Student Success and Social Justice
Mountain View School District, one of 13 public school systems serving a 1.2 million
person metropolitan area, has engaged in an earnest effort to reform their three middle schools
and two high schools. The adults are excited about the potential of many of their reform ideas but
students indicate they have a different perspective as they talk with an outside adult about their
perception of their role in school reform:
“The teachers never ask us how we feel about anything.”
“You’re just not significant enough for them to give a crap about you
or what you think.”
“Yeah, it’s always about their [teachers’] perceptions and never about
yours [students’] really in this school.”
“I dunno. It doesn’t matter what we think because they’re a higher
authority, so whatever they say goes, even if it’s unfair to us, it doesn’t matter
what we think.”
“They [teachers] don’t listen to us, even if we do talk and if they
[teachers] give us enough time to supposedly listen, they still don’t listen.”
“I don’t think kids can really change much in the school. “
“We have no say in anything” (Zion, 2009).
Although the interests of students are at the heart of many school improvement efforts,
they are infrequently consulted and only engaged in limited fashions as adults develop
improvement strategies. While students are affected daily by educational decisions made by
adults inside and outside of school, their voices often go unheard in the debates about schooling
and school reform (Glendon, 1991; Lincoln, 1995; O’Hair, McLaughlin, & Reitzug, 2000).
National policy, empirical research, and the discourse about practices in education often fail to
include the subjective experience of students and their perceptions about schools and learning in
any central way (Bechtel & Reed, 1998; Erickson & Schultz, 1992; O’Hair, McLaughlin, &
Reitzug, 2000). Rather than begin efforts to reform by understanding how schooling is
experienced by students themselves, most reform efforts are conceptualized, organized, and
implemented by professional educators, sometimes in collaborative efforts with community
leaders, researchers, and policy analysts. Levin (2000) notes that “education reform cannot
succeed and should not proceed without much more direct involvement of students in all its
aspects” including providing a “sustained and meaningful role for students in defining, shaping,
managing and implementing reform”.[[need page number]] Ultimately, it is the students’
experiences of schooling that provide the gauge against which we can judge our success or
failure in reform work.
1
1
This chapter work complements the considerable efforts of the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth
Organizing (www.fcyo.org), the Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s work
(http://annenberginstitute.org/community-organizing-engagement) on Youth Organizing in Education Reform
Student Voice 4
Further, many educational reform programs are grounded in the belief that schools exist
to prepare students for participation as citizens in a democratic society (Davies, 2002; Gay, 1997;
Novak, 2002; Smith & Fenstermacher, 1999). From this perspective, the ideas of equal
opportunity for all students to achieve and improve their array of life choices are paramount.
Thus, these educational reforms focus on ensuring that all students are afforded the highest
quality educational opportunities, regardless of their socio economic, cultural, or linguistic
backgrounds. In spite of these democracy-related educational goals, notions of democracy often
do not extend to authentic opportunities for participation in decision-making processes or real
leadership experiences during the time they spend in the K-12 educational system (O’Hair,
McLaughlin, & Reitzug, 2000). This chapter synthesizes the literature around student
engagement in school reform, provides a theoretical framework for this engagement that
accounts for the ways in which students might participate in active ways in school reform efforts,
and describes a transformative process for educators, researchers, and policy makers to engage,
foreground, and sustain student voice as a critical link in reforming schools and education
systems.
There are numerous efforts around the country to engage youth in the process of school
reform. Some of these efforts are internal to school systems and include surveying students
about their opinions on schools and teaching, having youth panels on specific topics, Student
Councils, student representatives on School Improvement Teams or District Advisory Boards,
and other structures much like some of the efforts of the National Institute for Urban School
Improvement (NIUSI). For instance, NIUSI facilitated student participation in focus groups that
examined classroom climate. Data from these focus groups were used to inform changes that
schools made their schoolwide positive behavior support agendas. Other efforts are external to
school systems and include the involvement of youth-focused and youth-led non-profit
organizations and groups. Many of these community-based organizations and groups target and
engage the most disenfranchised youth in school systems, namely students of color, low-income
students, and English language learners.
What is needed is well-grounded theory building that examines how and for what
purposes student voice might be engaged (Robinson & Taylor, 2007). Further, the meaning of
voice itself and how it is connected to identity, personality, relationship, and belonging needs to
be explored and theorized.
In this chapter, we describe a continuum of practices to engage youth in educational
reform. The rationale for a continuum of such practices is grounded in the following assertions:
1. Often educators and adults have limited knowledge of the most powerful ways to partner
with and engage youth in educational reform;
2. Though there is enormous theory and practice in the youth development field and the
work of community-based organizations and groups external to school systems related to
youth voice, engagement, advocacy, and empowerment, many of those involved in
systemic education reform work within school systems are unaware of or unconnected to
(http://annenberginstitute.org/sites/default/files/product/197/files/VUE30.pdf), Cammarota & Fine (2008), and many
others in raising awareness of the approaches, rigor, and power of authentic youth voice and engagement in
advancing educational systems change nationally. We target this chapter to educators and change agents who may
be less familiar with these bodies of literature and practice.
Student Voice 5
these efforts (Hosang, 2003; Joselowsky, Thomases, & Yohalem, 2004; Pittman &
Tolman, 2002; and What Kids Can Do and MetLife Foundation, 2004);
3. Efforts within school systems can be strengthened by deepening educators’ and
reformers’ awareness about the multiple ways that authentic youth voice and engagement
might be enacted
2
;
4. Authentic youth voice and engagement are resources for educators to critique their own
efforts within school systems and deepen partnerships with students to improve systems.
In the next sections, we discuss approaches to and some of the existing theoretical
frameworks for the integration of student voice in educational reform efforts.
Existing Frameworks for the Integration of Student Voice in Educational Reform Efforts
Charles Reigeluth (1994) identifies process as a key aspect of systems change theory,
focusing on how change happens, and in what steps it is implemented. He proposes four process
elements that can achieve transformative change: (1) the needs of the people served by the
system drive reform; (2) peoples beliefs and values anchor all reform; (3) reform incorporates a
shared vision; and (4) reform requires an evolution of mindsets about the system. Some
educational reformers have applied these proposed elements of change processes in ways that
emphasize ensuring the sustainability of change by including all parts of the school system in the
process and understanding the inter-relationships between components within school systems
(Ferguson, Kozleski, & Smith, 2003; Fullan, 2000; Klingner et al., 2005; Squire & Reigeluth,
2000). Yet, while these models tend to focus on outcomes of school reform for the benefit of
students, they do not include students as core participants in the change process.
Levin (1999) names three arguments for including students in education reform that
parallel Reigeluth’s recommendations: (1) participation and investment happens when everyone
gets involved; (2) the unique perspectives that students bring to school reform can strengthen
improvement efforts; and (3) parents and staff are influenced by the voices of students. Levin
also suggests that the shift from teaching to learning reflected in sociocultural ways of
constructing knowledge means that students must be engaged in creating the world of school.
Finally, he also reminds his readers that school outcomes are created by students, so their
investment in designing school is essential to its ultimate success.
While many reformers and educators espouse the term systemic change, ideas about
who is contained with a system differ. Several groups of people are served by education systems:
students, families, community members, practitioners, policy makers, and society at large.
Students and families are immediate consumers of what is offered locally. Yet, community
members and society at large benefit from the results of an education system. These results are as
2
See for example the materials produced by the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO)
http://www.fcyo.org/; or Movement Strategy Center’s Bringing it Together: Uniting Youth Organizing,
Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability (2005;
http://www.movementstrategy.org/media/docs/2502_BringingItTogether.pdf), or their Making Space, Making
Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations (2004;
http://www.movementstrategy.org/media/docs/1892_MSMC.pdf) developed with the Youth Wisdom Project and the
Youth Speak Out Coalition.
Student Voice 6
varied as skilled workers prepared to take on the complex needs of a modern community from
health care to technology infrastructure, from service careers to highly sophisticated technical
expertise, from community services to national policy making. And, beyond skills to contribute
to economic well-being, there are also intangibles that may result from a strong educational
foundation such as the capacity to understand and participate in improving the democratic
process locally as well as at the state, national, and international levels. Because so much rests on
how a community rears the next generations, and because there are such significant outcomes for
so many kinds of stakeholders, reform efforts must incorporate or build on the beliefs, values,
vision, and needs of each of these stakeholders.
Most reform efforts include only some stakeholders typically, school level
administrators, practitioners, and policy makers. This limits the effectiveness of the change
processes since changes are implemented after responding to the needs of some of the people,
using the reformers’ beliefs and values to determine what should be valued and addressed.
Overwhelmingly, this approach creates a shared vision among only the school professionals and
ignores the need for challenging basic assumptions held by the reform leaders that are rarely
surfaced and examined. An important avenue to examining these hidden assumptions is
engaging groups currently marginalized in the system. In urban schools, this often includes low-
income parents and communities of color. Many school systems minimally engage these families
and community members via approaches that do not create on-going, powerful structures for co-
creating educational reform agendas. All-too-common practices include inviting parents who are
hourly wage earners to school during work hours and then being surprised when families are
unable to participate or, using email as a form of communication for families who have no access
to computers at home. When families and community members fail to show up at their
designated time, they may be dismissed as non-contributors. But dismissing these families and
communities begs the question of how aware schools are of the life circumstances of the families
of students they serve, whose voices schools value, what beliefs schools have about the desire
and ability of certain groups of people to participate powerfully in change efforts, and what
supports (or barriers) are established so that families and communities participate in and lead
transformative school work.
As central stakeholders and beneficiaries of the educational system, students (and their
families and community members) should be considered essential participants to any effort to
reform educational systems. The research literature reveals that students can participate as
researchers and documenters, participate in school restructuring, engage in classroom
management; and participate in community action (Bechtel & Reed, 1998; Cammarota & Fine,
2008; Finn & Checkoway, 1998; Lee & Zimmerman, n.d.; Metzger, 2004). These studies
demonstrate that, when students are included in planning and decision-making processes,
substantive and transformative change happens. Meaningfully partnering with youth and
students on education reform work requires unearthing what are often unconscious assumptions
about the capacity and appropriateness of students to be engaged in reform work. We may
somewhat more readily recognize and challenge our beliefs about limited capacity and
involvement in relation to people of color, women, and other adult marginalized groups, yet we
may unconsciously hold these perspectives in relation to youth and students.
Some of this myopia about student voice comes from the historical perspectives that
educators have about their profession and their work. While it is true that we may know a great
deal about what has been, we are not clear about what it means to be a student in the 21st century.
Student Voice 7
The world in which we live will certainly create very different adult lives than the ones that most
educators aspired to in their own upbringing. To learn what it is like to be a student in this place
and time, “we need to embrace more fully the work of authorizing students’ perspectives in
conversations about schooling and reform (Cook-Sather, 2002, p.12).”
Based on these ideas, we propose that any endeavor that purports to transform schools
must begin with (1) examining the assumptions and beliefs that underlie any initiative to reform
and or change schools; (2) in order for the change to be transformative, it must involve ideally
the entire community of stakeholders; (3) issues of power and privilege must be transparent and
open for discussion; (4) students must be part of the conceptualizing, data collecting and
analysis, and the strategic planning; and (5) students and families must have key leadership roles.
In this chapter, we challenge the notion that some groups of people can be meaningfully
involved in deliberation and decision-making about educational change, and that some
stakeholders (in this case, students) cannot and should not be so powerfully engaged. We hope
educators surface their perspectives on what they believe are the most appropriate roles for youth
(and in particular, which youth) to play in transformation efforts. From here, we encourage
educators and others working on reform to reflect on their personal, school, and district practices
around youth involvement to see if these practices align with their beliefs and perspectives about
the proper role and potential for youth involvement in educational improvement efforts. By
understanding these perspectives, reformers can become more strategic in the systems change
efforts they undertake and in examining the degree of impact those changes have in creating
more effective school systems. In this way, we as educational systems change agents will be
better able to collectively push the envelopes of our thinking toward what is most powerful in
creating improved educational systems that serve all students well and help to build a society and
world of reflective, compassionate, and engaged citizens.
In the following sections, we lay out a framework for educators to consider including:
potential youth roles in educational change processes; the capacities needed for youth and adults
to work together meaningfully toward change; the supports each will need to undertake this work
with vigor and creativity; and a focus on moving youth engagement from the school to the
community in an emancipatory model that broadens the notions of the purpose of education and
engagement. We hope that educators and those working toward educational systems
transformation can locate themselves, their perspectives and frameworks, and their policies and
practices in this model.
Arenas for Student Voice Work and Youth-Adult Partnerships
In this section, we discuss three arenas for youth voice work in educational improvement
efforts. These approaches and goals appear commonly in the literature on reform, though they
are often labeled differently. First, we address voice and engagement as it requires a commitment
on the part of adults to actively question their philosophy of the role of students in school reform.
Next we move to the more tangible task of skill building for both adults and students. Finally, we
discuss authentic community involvement and change, which is the outcome we seek for
powerful student voice work. At the end of the chapter is an introductory rubric for educational
reformers and activists to begin to reflect on their own practice. Our perspective is that the most
powerful student voice work and youth-adult partnerships come from robust work in all of these
areas combined:
Student Voice 8
1. Student Voice and Engagement: Broadening our conceptualization of engagement to include
not only engaging students in their own learning, but also partnering with students as co-
producers of educational systems reform agendas by engaging students in helping to
conceptualize reform work and evaluate it with educators, in continuous improvement cycles.
2. Skill-building: Tapping youth’s existing skills and helping youth and adults to build
additional skills and competencies so they can work together most powerfully in systemic
education transformation efforts; and
3. Community Involvement and Change: Creating supportive structures for youth to impact and
benefit their communities as the ultimate goal in education and engagement practices.
3
Student Voice and Engagement
Robinson and Taylor (2007) argued that the practice of work with student voice carries
with it four core values, including: 1) “communication as dialogue” where there is trust,
openness, and collaboration; 2) including all voices, especially those who have been historically
“silenced” or are considered “critical or conflicting” to dominant ways of communicating; 3)
recognizing that power relations are unequal and hence, attention must be paid to which students
are listened to and how they are listened to; and 4) acknowledging that change is possible
through acting on the contributions of students as change agents (p.8).
Attention to these four core values creates the space in which adults engage with students
in sharing power, developing understanding that is not rooted in “the way it’s always been”, and
allows for emancipatory practices that radically change the way we structure schooling for the
most marginalized youth. A critical first step that educators must take when beginning student
voice work is to engage students, and to do so must recognize the various ways that students may
make meaning of who they are, their place in schools, and be engaged productively or not,
actively or passively. Too often, when adults in schools think of engaged students, they only
recognize those students who are compliant, who fit with school norms, and who are successful
in navigating the systems as it currently functions. Other students who may be either actively or
passively engaged in resistance to the dominant cultural norms, values, and expectations imposed
by the school, and who may be not successful by school standards because they have developed
identities in opposition to those norms, are often discounted and not included in student voice
work.
Harnessing the energy and insights of these often marginalized students can create great
benefit for school reform efforts. Given that these students are very often the focus of school
reform efforts, it seems imperative to focus our efforts at student engagement on understanding
the perspectives and issues they see. By doing so, we might uncover, from the perspectives of
students, the purpose of school and use that information to suggest new possibilities for the ways
3
Authors and practitioners in the community change and social justice fields have spoken of a range of
decision-making roles that youth can play in change efforts, as well as a continuum of youth engagement
approaches. For example, see the youth engagement continuum by Listen, Inc., 2003, p.10, and Hart’s Ladder of
Young People’s Participation available at http://www.engagementcentre.ca/detail_e.php?recordid=26. Our work
builds on these efforts in applying them to educational improvement agendas.
Student Voice 9
we do public education in the United States that will allow us to live up to the promise of
equitable educational opportunities and outcomes for all students (Klingner et al., 2005).
As Miramontes, Nadeau, and Commins noted (1997, p. 15), “Schools can make a positive
and significant difference for students when educators account for the complex interaction of
language, culture, and context, and decisions are made within a coherent theoretical framework.”
To engage in critical pedagogy that supports adults and students to challenge traditional beliefs
about the ways that school works requires a commitment to the construction of knowledge by
sharing power and authority between students and teachers, challenging the hegemonic or
“common sense” notions of what school is and should be, and sharing control of the curriculum
and pedagogy of the classroom. Sharing power with students, and facilitating questioning of the
political and social structures of school, create a space in which students and adults broaden their
understandings of themselves, the assumptions that society operates by, and the ways that the
world works (Giroux, 1997; McLaren, 1989).
Approaches to Engaging Youth
So how do we go about engaging students who may not have the social or cultural capital
to engage in the ways school is set up, or who may be passively or actively resistant to engaging
in such structures? We can begin by acknowledging a fundamental need of adolescents: Their
need to engage in meaningful relationship with adults (kids voices, 2003), and to begin to
develop those relationships by improving the ways that adults and youth engage in
communication with each other.
For education to occur there must be communication, and dialogue is the cornerstone
of communication. Education must involve all parties. It is not our role to speak to the people
about our own view of the world, nor attempt to impose that view on them but rather to dialogue
with the people about their view and ours. We must realize that their view of the world,
manifested variously in their actions, reflects their situation in the world (Freire, 2005, p. 77).
The roots of the word dialogue are the Greek words dia and logos, which means through
words or meaning and, as we will use it here, refers to shared inquiry, thinking, and reflecting
together. The outcome of an effective dialogue is that each party has given up efforts to “make
them understand us and, instead, come to a greater understanding of the relationships between
each other (Isaacs, 1999). This requires that we embrace different points of view, end
dichotomous efforts at determining a right and wrong way of doing or being, and place as much
value on the voices and perspectives of students as we do on those of adults. The inherent
difficulty in establishing a productive and ongoing dialogue lies in the fact that our thoughts and
actions are motivated by prior experiences of which we may not even be fully aware. However
all perspectives must be accepted as part of the whole, no matter how challenging or difficult
(Isaacs, 1999). Geren (2001) suggests that the discourse or dialogue that leads to the
improvement of a human situation does not come naturally but is a learned process, requiring
individuals to give up their self-interest for the good of the common interest. Learning to
communicate and to create shared spaces where all voices are heard and recognized is a complex
task that requires intentional efforts to build those skills and value systems. This applies for
adults no less than students. In the next section, we will address ways to build the skills that both
youth and adults need to engage and communicate with each other effectively.
Student Voice 10
Skill-Building:
Youth and Adult Skills Needed for Authentic
Partnership in Educational Change Work
The previous section identified ways of reconceptualizing student voice and engagement.
In order to support the most powerful development of youth voice in educational improvement,
we have found that both adult practitioners and youth must build specific skill sets. This section
extends our discussion into skill and competency needs for youth and adults to be able to work
together in educational reform efforts in new and powerful ways.
Tolman, Ford, and Irby (2003) note that youth can play a number of roles in reform
efforts, including as active learners, educators of their peers and/or adults, advocates, organizers,
leaders, service providers, researchers, philanthropists, and decision- and policy-makers. These
authors additionally note that youth can play a role at various levels of educational reform work
including: individual; classroom or program; school or organization; community or city; and
national and international levels (Tolman et al., 2003). Helping youth develop the capacity to
take on most if not all of these roles and participate at all of these levels with success will require
significant skill-building for both youth and adults.
There are a range of skills and competencies that can be the focus of youth voice work.
Students need to develop competencies in multiple areas including academic, social, moral,
cultural, vocational, civic, physical, as well as organizing skills to promote community
involvement and change (Pittman and Tolman, 2002; Scheie, Robillos, Bischoff, & Langley,
2003). In this way, students can “develop civic skills of relationship-building, issue research and
strategy development, public and interpersonal communication [which are] skills for organizing
and advocacy” (Scheie, et al., 2003, p.3).
Tolman et al. (2003) note that intellectual skill-building includes problem-solving, social
skills, and intrapersonal skills and these are closely linked to organizing skills (p.29). Levin
(2000) adds to these lists and highlights additional skill-building areas for youth if they are to
actively participate in educational reform efforts. These include “defining problems, gathering
evidence, analyzing data, writing proposals, and working effectively in teams” which are also
significant educational outcomes in themselves (p. 165-66).
Additionally, supporting youth in effective partnering with adults is an important skill-
building area because it allows young people to take their “intuitive and experiential sensibilities
and perspectives about what needs to be done and shap[e] them into programs, action agendas,
and policy recommendations” (Forum for Youth Investment, 2005, p.3). This extends the range
of 21st century skills being discussed in many reform dialogues about student skill-building
needs.
4
While all notions of 21st century skills include academic, vocational, and basic civic foci,
fewer include the types of cultural and organizing skills these authors speak of as essential youth
skills. Further, the precise meaning of each of these skills sets for students is often a point of
confusion for practitioners using similar terms to mean different goals or outcomes.
While the discussion so far has focused on youth skill-building, adults will additionally
need support in building a similar, complementary range of skills in order to effectively support
4
See for example: Partnership for 21st Century Skills http://www.p21.org/overview/skills-framework
Student Voice 11
and partner with youth to fully participate in reform efforts. Building such a broad range of
skills requires the first two levels of goals spoken about earlier in this chapter, namely deep,
authentic dialogue and two-way communication between adults and students, as well as youth
truly engaged in their own learning.
The summary of skill-building areas for youth and adults that youth voice work could be
involved in is as follows. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but is more so intended to
mark key skill and competency areas for youth and adults to participate effectively in educational
reform agendas: (1) traditional academic and vocational skills; (2) social, cultural and
interpersonal skills including self-awareness and cultural proficiency in engaging with youth and
adults from different demographic backgrounds; (3) moral skills which include deep reflection
about one’s individual choices and consequences and how these choices are impacted by broader
social and historical circumstances; (4) basic as well as more advanced civic and organizing
skills; (5) skills that support carrying educational reform agendas such as problem definition,
data analysis, proposal writing, team work, strategy development, and public communication;
and (6) skills for effective partnering between youth and adults.
Traditional academic skills are the focus of existing standards and accountability systems
across states in the country. Social, cultural and interpersonal skills refer to how youth and adults
are supported to be able to engage with “difference” in all of its forms in healthy ways. These
skill sets include fostering a sense of receptivity to learning about others and their worldviews,
experiences and perspectives, with a groundedness in one’s own views, history and cultures,
while maintaining and cultivating an openness to listening, learning and growing. These (as the
other skills sets) are essential for participation in a democracy, and consequently to helping co-
create and enact educational transformation agendas where different and often contentious
perspectives are present.
Moral skills include deep reflection on the consequences of the choices we make in
educational systems improvement work, and also includes the capacity of courage. This is a
particularly critical skill area given the well-documented disproportionate and egregious impacts
reform efforts have too often had on students of color, low-income students, those with
disabilities, and other marginalized groups.
5
Supporting skillful joint reflection with youth and
adults (especially those who have been most impacted by reform or lack of reform efforts) is
essential and difficult work.
Civic and organizing skill-building trains young people in community organizing and
advocacy, and supports them to alter power relations and create change in their communities.
Youth organizing supports the leadership in that youth act on issues defined by and affecting
them and their communities. Organizing also involves youth in the design, implementation, and
evaluation of improvement efforts. Youth organizing builds skills including political education,
analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action, and membership
recruitment. The skills developed in youth organizing helps young people become lifelong
community leaders (Torres-Fleming, Valdes, and Pillai, 2010).
The skill areas of problem definition, data analysis, proposal writing, team work, strategy
development, and public communication are generic to any institutional change effort as well as
specific to carrying forward educational improvement agendas. These areas are often not taught
5
See for instance Ed Trust West http://www.edtrust.org/west.
Student Voice 12
explicitly as part of the standard k-12 curriculum for youth (and may or may not be covered in
teacher and administrator credential programs for adults). Hence, they become crucial for our
purposes of building the capacity of youth and adults to “team” with each other in conceiving,
implementing, and evaluating systems improvement work. The ability of youth and adults to
build consensus around what the problem(s) is/are, locate and/or collect and analyze data
relevant to the identified problems (and engage in consensus-making conversations about that
data, which are often controversial in what they show about the experiences of and impacts on
marginalized students), jointly develop strategies to address these areas, and communicate
effectively to various constituent groups about all of the preceding are all formidable skills
domains for youth and adults to strengthen.
All of these efforts and skill areas are predicated upon youth and adults developing the
actual capacity to partner effectively with one another. “Partnership” here refers to the areas that
practitioners can reflect on in our own experiences, namely the qualities of mutual respect and
regard for the wisdom, intelligence and capacity to contribute meaningfully to the joint work at
hand, the commitment to supporting one another and being critical friends, and openness to
learning and listening skills.
Cultural competency skills are embedded in all of the above areas and apply specifically
to working with and between marginalized youth and adults. These competencies include
ensuring that interactions are not “color-blind” and take into consideration the specific
experiences, perspectives and ways of communicating of racial/ethnic, language, ability, gender,
age, and other cultural groups, which have often been denigrated, ignored and/or misunderstood
(Lindsey, Robins, and Terrell, 2009). Ensuring cultural competency as an undergirding domain
of skill-building includes examining the impacts of power and cultural capital differences among
cultural groups (for example, white and affluent practitioners and youth, versus youth of color
and low-income youth), and how these affect the influence that groups have upon reform efforts.
Finally, these skill-building efforts can only become sustainable when policy
environments are erected within schools and school systems where their on-going development
is supported via skilled practitioners, consultants, funding and other infrastructure, as needed.
We summarize our comments about the skill-building needs of youth and adults to
promote authentic partnership in conceiving and advancing educational transformation agendas,
in the table below.
Student Voice 13
Figure 1.
Our perspective is that the most powerful and sustainable efforts in youth voice and
educational reform work will involve helping youth to build robust skills in all of these areas. As
we have noted, this includes allocating the requisite infrastructure, including policies, funding,
and training for adults, in order to ensure effective efforts. These areas cannot be underestimated
in their significance. Partnering effectively with youth is a set of skills that must be learned
(Forum for Youth Investment, 2005). While some adults naturally understand how to partner
with youth, too often, larger scale education reform initiatives fail to give the skill-building
dimension of the partnership adequate consideration. Youth engagement is conceptually simple
but difficult to pull off without intentional training for adults.
There are numerous organizations around the country providing basic to advanced skill-
building for and with youth. As one example, Youth in Focus (YIF) in Oakland, CA provided
youth and adult allies training in youth-led planning, research, and evaluation. The organization
partnered with and assists community-based organizations, nonprofits, schools, districts,
government institutions, and foundations in bringing authentic youth voice into issues of concern
to these organizations and their communities. YIF provided skill-building in most of the areas
from our list above. They also included training for youth on hegemony, understanding
intersecting oppressions, and evaluation design, analysis, reporting, and developing and
Summary of Youth and Adult Training & Skills Needs to
Promote On-going, Powerful Student Voice
(not an exhaustive list)
o Adults:
listening and partnering in an on-going (and not one-off) basis with youth from
multiple backgrounds, perspectives, and ways of communicating
learning about the nature and impacts of power and cultural capital
developing cultural proficiency skills, or how to engage with difference in healthy,
constructive ways without being color-blind
meaningfully changing their practice based on what they learn from youth
partnering with local and national youth organizations who are skilled at this work
creating supportive policy environments, e.g., working with school boards to
establish friendly, supportive policies with accountability mechanisms
ensuring sufficient funding as well as skilled and experienced staff resources to do
a robust job at erecting and monitoring powerful structures and practices to
support youth voice
o Students:
listening and partnering with adults from multiple backgrounds, perspectives, and
ways of communicating
developing cultural proficiency skills, or how to engage with difference in healthy,
constructive ways without being color-blind
learning about the nature and impacts of power and cultural capital
participating in dialogue, debate, and decision-making processes
building skills in problem definition, gathering evidence, data analysis, proposal
writing, and working in teams
taking leadership roles
political participation
Student Voice 14
presenting recommendations to communities, organizations and decision-makers, as well as
engaging in action planning to support implementation of the changes.
Whether or not practitioners provide support for building youth and adult skills in some
or all of the above areas will depend upon their goals for youth voice, their own comfort and
familiarity with these skill areas, and the resources available to them to execute this work with
quality.
As we have mentioned earlier, there are several areas that should not be underestimated
in their significance for quality student voice work, regardless of the range of skills practitioners
are seeking to help students build. Attention to power, cultural capital, and student demographic
representation in service provision, programs, opportunities, and/or pathways for growth and
involvement available to youth is critical (Pittman & Tolman, 2002). Adult demographic
representation, as well as competence in understanding and engaging with the various cultures
students come from, is equally important.
Student and adult demographic representation (i.e., a range of ethnicities, genders,
income levels, abilities, language backgrounds, levels of success in school, sexual orientations,
etc.) is a crucial first step in creating the conditions where interpersonal, social, and cultural
proficiency skills can be built. Creating this environment also sets the stage for deepening
awareness of how differences in cultural capital influence communication across groups, and
create relative power differentials in identifying issues and solutions, and advancing reform
agendas. We have noted the importance of ensuring the centrality of “conflicting voices,
silenced voices, and critical voices” (Robinson & Taylor, 2007, p. 10) for their ability to
illuminate often hidden reform issues and potentially powerful and intersecting solutions. We
view these areas as core to quality reform efforts focused on improving life outcomes for all
students, particularly low-income students and youth of color.
Community Involvement & Change:
Moving Youth Engagement from the School to the Community
We turn our attention at this juncture to community involvement and change, the third
area of student voice work that is the focus of this chapter. This area is concerned with
supporting the development of youth who are informed and engaged citizens, as the ultimate
goal of youth voice work in education. There are tens of millions young people in the United
States between ages 10 and 24. Given the energy and potential in that age range, we believe it is
critical for the benefit of our communities and the social fabric of our society to engage and
channel these youth’s collective vision, leadership, energy and talents toward community
transformation (Miao, 2003 as cited in Hosang, 2003, series preface).
Creating supportive structures for youth to impact and benefit their communities could be
viewed as the ultimate goal of education. Certainly, engaging youth as agents for self-, peer-, and
community development can contribute to youth development and community improvement.
Community engagement contributes to the identity formation of young adults who know
themselves as caring activists, committed to improving community life, who have the skills,
knowledge, and relationships for lifelong community leadership and responsible citizenship
(Scheie, et al., 2003).
How this kind of lifelong commitment evolves depends on the ways in which youth are
mentored and supported to become informed and engaged citizens. Youth outcomes such as
Student Voice 15
confidence, civic engagement, connectedness, feeling competent and useful, belonging, mental
health, optimism, and social skills are key factors in academic engagement, success, and
commitment to continued learning (Tolman et al., 2003, p.31; Pittman and Tolman, 2002, p.11;
Sagor, 2002, p.1).
Challenges in schools and school systems are connected to their surrounding
communities. Therefore, communities and community-based organizations are critical partners
in schools’ and school systems’ ability to support youth and create healthy communities. By
being involved in their communities, neighborhoods, cities, and beyond, youth begin to
understand how systemic issues intersect. By making the connections between and among
community characteristics and cultures, youth learn to become strategic, sophisticated and active
agents of change. Many youth may already deeply engaged in this type of work, while others
may have limited supports and resources for such engagement.
Many schools, districts, and community organizations design programs and strategies to
help students become more deeply involved in their communities
6
. Several factors seem to shape
the focus of youth programs. The first is the type of community involvement work that might
involve volunteer work, service-learning, internships, community action research, and/or
community organizing. The second factor is the type of goals that are set for community
involvement work. For instance, the change focus may be at the individual, local, regional,
national, and/or global level, with a desire to lead to individual change, institutional change,
community change, and/or societal change. As the level changes, so do the strategies for
communication, networking, and measuring success.
A third factor is the degree to which youth themselves play a central role in shaping and
selecting the community involvement options. Some programs may engage youth in an activity
or project that already has set goals and priorities, while others might engage youth in
identifying, assessing, and selecting potential sites, issues, and types of engagement. These
factors are neither mutually exclusive nor rigidly formulated. Our experience has shown us that
the degree of youth voice in designing the community involvement work, goals, desired impact,
and the activities that will take place in the work should be clearly spelled out and agreed upon
by the youth, adults, and participating school(s), district(s), and/or agency(ies).
7
We argue that community involvement and change work can lead youth to deeper
engagement with school and life in general, and hence more powerful decision-making as a
result of deeper investment in themselves, their neighborhoods, and belief in their capacity to
positively impact their environment. These goals for youth voice work extend beyond typical
engagement strategies being used in the field and the skill-building discussed in the preceding
section of this chapter (Scheie et al., 2003; Watts & Guessous, 2006).
6
For example, see Youth Together, http://www.youthtogether.net; the School of Unity & Liberation,
http://www.schoolofunityandliberation.org/; El Puente Academy for Peace & Justice,
http://www.elpuente.us/academy/index.htm; National Youth Leadership Council,
http://www.nylc.org/?gclid=CMPy1KOXpKMCFRr6iAodAH-L3Q; or the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights,
http://www.ellabakercenter.org/page.php?pageid=1
7
See for example: Hart’s Ladder of Young People’s Participation
http://www.engagementcentre.ca/detail_e.php?recordid=26
Student Voice 16
Redressing Power Distribution and Cultural Capital
As we have mentioned, attention to power and cultural capital continues to be essential
with community involvement and change as youth voice goals. As youth are engaged in
identifying issues of importance in their personal lives and communities, both locally and
globally, they are confronted with harsh realities of difference in access to resources,
opportunities, and outcomes in all sectors including education, healthcare, housing, and other
economic and social conditions. The dialogue skills and other areas of skill-building discussed in
the previous sections come to bear more sharply when youth begin to lend their knowledge,
perspectives, and efforts to improve community conditions.
In all areas, from volunteer work and internships, to community action research, to
organizing, youth’s awareness of the significance and impact of their community involvement
work can also take on a range. Understanding significance and impact can take many forms. For
instance, some community involvement experiences may help students develop awareness of the
institutional and community contexts in which youth are working. Other experiences may extend
awareness to how institutions impact communities. As well, youth may have the opportunity to
explore how and to what end community institutions intersect with each other or across different
sectors such as employment, social services, mental health, juvenile justice, and transportation.
Additionally, as youth become more involved in their communities, their awareness of the
systems dimensions of issues can deepen. In this way, their ability to help develop penetrating
analyses of educational issues and solutions can become that much more potent.
For example, youth who participated in an effort to expand a west coast school district’s
approach to engaging students began to partner with central office staff and school board
members (personal communication, 2008). Over the course of their engagement with the district,
the youth began to deepen their understanding of the political, funding, and bureaucratic
challenges that educators were facing in their attempts to create more powerful structures for
engaging youth, as well as in their overall district improvement efforts. In turn, the adults
involved in the effort deepened their awareness of and appreciation for the contributions that
youth can bring to reform work.
Nuances of Community Involvement Approaches
It is important to be intentional about one’s goals for benefiting from, building, and
deepening youth awareness, understanding, voice, and involvement. Youth will not
automatically build deeper awareness of social issues as a result of every community
involvement effort. Additionally, the sophistication of awareness youth develop will depend on
the kind, range, and rigor of data and research youth have access to (or build themselves) about
the institutions, neighborhoods, and communities they are working to impact. Students’ depth of
awareness will also depend on how powerful and structured the dialogue formats are that they
participate in (i.e., the curricular and pedagogical practices within school hours and/or in after
school settings to which they have access). These surrounding conditions are important so that
youth can be deeply reflective about their analyses, the work they are undertaking, why they are
undertaking it, to what end(s), and how their efforts might be course-corrected if need be, to
become more powerful.
It is also important to remember that youth come with a depth of experience and
knowledge about their communities. Therefore community involvement work as a critical
Student Voice 17
component in school, district, and community improvement should build on youth’s existing
expertise and skills, truly capitalizing on the tremendous assets that all youth bring.
To execute the most robust community involvement efforts along these lines will require
on-going development for youth and adults of the full range of skills discussed in the last section
of this chapter. Continued vigilance is necessary to reflect on which youth from which
demographic categories have true access to the full range of community involvement
opportunities and supports. Ensuring representation based on race/ethnicity, income levels,
gender, sexuality, ability, language and all other areas of marginalization is critically important.
Practitioners wishing to engage youth in robust strategies and approaches should ask
themselves which youth have access to community involvement opportunities based on relative
success in school determined via tests, grading, and other common assessments. Youth who have
struggled in school can be motivated anew, and youth who have disconnected or given up on
their success can be profoundly inspired to re-engage in school by being able to participate in
community change work on issues and with organizations that interest them (Petty, 2008). We
have found very often that students who have struggled in school are deeply concerned about
school conditions and thrive when given authentic opportunities and supports to help create
change.
Additionally, it is critical to consider what kinds of experiences youth desire as well as
what experiences will help to deepen their ability to “care about, act for and [be] effective at
improving their communities” (Scheie, et al., 2003, p.3). This support for engaged citizens
extends from areas where youth might naturally gravitate (i.e., institutions or experiences
familiar to them), as well as to organizations and community involvement opportunities that may
be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or intimidating to them. Youth from both disadvantaged and more
privileged backgrounds can lead lives where they have limited contact with people who they
would consider “different” from themselves. Hence, community involvement can be a powerful
venue to bolster youth’s learning about themselves and others for youth who would otherwise
have limited opportunities and supports to do so.
As with all students, participation should come with agreements about how the
community involvement opportunity relates with the core academic work and can bolster success
there. The relationship between community change work and traditional academics warrants
deep discussion and planning by youth and adults. Ideally, collaborative decisions by youth and
adults would be made about whether community change work is core or peripheral to goals for
student learning and success (i.e., academic standards and building global, 21st century skills)
and, if community change work is considered core, what is considered rigorous in terms of youth
voice, goals of the work, and developing and evaluating the involvement opportunities.
As we have noted, ensuring the highest quality work in community involvement and
change as a youth voice goal will require: creating supportive policy environments, for example,
working with school boards to establish policies with teeth that are supportive of youth doing
powerful school, district, and community involvement and change work; ensuring skilled and
experienced staff at district, school, and community organization levels; ensuring the
development of a cohesive infrastructure supporting on-going authentic and powerful youth
voice; ensuring sufficient funding; and drawing on the expertise of local and national youth
organizations who are skilled at this work (Pittman and Tolman, 2002).
Student Voice 18
Before moving to our concluding section, we summarize themes from the above
discussions in a table to keep in mind when reflecting on practices to support authentic youth
voice in educational change:
Figure 2.
Emancipation: Unleashing the Full Potential of Student Voice in Education Reform
Our use of the term “emancipation” for this section title and as an ultimate aim of student
voice work was inspired by Robinson and Taylor’s (2007) discussion of “emancipatory
education” (p.9). We take this notion of emancipation as the ability to participate fully in the
human community. This concept is similar to “sociopolitical development” or the
Key Reminders in Fostering Authentic Student Voice Work
Essential questions in pursuing student voice work:
o Who / which students are listened to?
o Which opportunities for participation and involvement are available to which students
(demographically) and what supports are present to ensure their full ability to
participate?
o What are students asked about? What topics are they consulted about?
o How do students participate or to what degree are they involved in identifying and
analyzing issues, developing and implementing solutions, and assessing impact? Is this
as a continuous cycle?
o What is the full range of ways students can be involved, develop voice, and participate
in their own lives, with their peers, with adults, with schools and the district, and with
other organizations and institutions in the community locally, nationally, and globally?
o Who talks to the youth? And with what skills (inc. degree of cultural competence)?
o In what settings and contexts are the youth engaged?
Areas to attend to:
o ensure representative numbers of students
o ensure demographic representation
o create safety
o ensure that processes are not primarily adult-led
o ensure centrality of “conflicting voices, silenced voices, and critical voices”
o attend to “cultural capital” challenges and cultural literacy of adults and students
o attend to power dynamics between adults and youth, and between youth and youth who
have more social capital (e.g., in a classroom or other setting where there are
male/female, white/of-color, affluent/poor, abled/disabled, English/other languages,
successful student/struggling student, etc. dynamics at play)
o attend to training needs for youth and adults and provide quality resources
Watch out for token engagement where students are:
o not engaged in defining the research agenda;
o not asked about the most critical aspects of schooling;
o asked and nothing is done with the information provided;
o not provided with follow-up or other mechanisms to let them know what is happening;
and/or
o limited in their involvement by being asked on the front end what they think but not
involved in developing implementation plans for changes, or not involved in assessment
of how successful change efforts have been.
Student Voice 19
evolving, critical understanding of the political, economic, cultural, and other systemic
forces that shape society and one’s status within it, and the associated process of growth
in relevant knowledge, analytical skills, and emotional faculties. It broadens or replaces a
narrow focus on adjustment, coping, resilience and similar concepts that connote
accommodation, with the more empowering notions of a collective sense of agency,
commitment to action, and activism… [I]t explicitly acknowledges oppression and the
influence of social forces outside the individual. (Watts and Guessous, 2006, p.60)
We take voice, dialogue, sociopolitical development, and emancipation as core to
participation in the human community. Further, all of the previous sections combined make the
case that lack of authentic avenues and supports for meaningful voice and engagement for all
students leads to limited authentic participation in the world. This limited participation can
further lead to perpetual alienation of individuals and fragmentation of society.
We have tried to demonstrate in this chapter that student voice is core to successful
educational system improvement and societal improvement. Student voice, as well as the
requisite infrastructure and systems of support that make authentic voice and participation
possible, is critical to the creation of an informed, literate, engaged society able to dialogue and
work with one another in thoughtful, healthy, and respectful ways across the entire spectra of
demographics as well as across perspectives on education and life in general.
We are aiming for “a sustained and meaningful role for students in defining, shaping,
managing, and implementing reform” (Levin, 2000, p. 155). The degree to which we help foster
such conditions for voice and engagement across age (youth and adults), race, language, ability
and other demographic categories is the degree to which we will help foster individuals who are
equipped to help transform our educational systems and, in turn, co-create a more just society.
The converse of this point is also true: the degree to which we inhibit authentic voice and
engagement as part of education reform work is the degree to which we will inhibit our ability to
co-create a more just society. If we are not in real dialogue with one another (i.e., if some
voices are valued and supported to participate over others) we will not be able to develop
powerful enough collaborative skills to be in constant, often tension-filled, constructive, and
compassionate dialogue together across differences on a perpetual basis.
For those who may have the concern that, when students do voice their perspectives on
education, they are not focused on or concerned about the same things as adults, Alyeska (1999)
offers this: “The students’ emphasis on relationships, roles, respect, and reality does not
contradict the policymakers’ emphasis on rigor, rules, and required exams. Many educators
affirm that these are, in fact, the means to achieving the high standards set” (p.1). Frequently,
students are raising many of the same issues and concerns adults are focused on, as well as
emphasizing other critical areas often not part of adult education reform dialogues (Council of
Chief State School Officers, 2001; Joselowsky & Davis, 2004; Joselowsky, Thomases, &
Yohalem, 2004; Mediratta & Fructher, 2001; What Kids Can Do, 2003, 2004). These authors
make the case that, while adults may bring systems and other valuable perspectives to reform
discussions, youth can also bring deep analyses of educational system challenges as well as a
grounded, current, and visceral understanding of the realities in schools and districts, and clarity
about the real impacts of reform efforts on their experiences and readiness for life. To dismiss
these perspectives would be to continue running risking missing the entire point of all
educational change work.
Student Voice 20
The underlying assumptions to our points in this chapter are several, but the primary one
is that all human beings, of every background, ability level, etc., can and should be engaged
deeply in the co-creation of our collective life. Further, in order to do this well, we have the
responsibility to examine and create the proper conditions for successful engagement. We are
also making the point that, if everyone does not develop the skills to truly participate, these
individuals will likely become alienated from and/or dependent on society in some way because
they are not able to truly engage in the analysis, creation, and refinement of our communities. In
this way, people can become at minimum, alienated, underutilized in their talents and skills, and
apathetic. At worse, people may become bitter, angry, and violent because of lack of outlets and
supports for analyzing, improving, and benefitting from the world we share together.
Some readers may feel that those who are too young, who are belligerent, who are
criminal offenders, who have particular kinds of disabilities, who espouse particular beliefs, who
are from particular racial/ethnic and other backgrounds, who have particular ways of
communicating, who lack particular skill sets, etc. have either not gained or have forfeited their
right to fully participate in society. These are important questions to ask, for communities and
society be in conversation about, and come to conclusions regarding. The key issue here is that
we ask these and other questions, especially the questions about what we risk creating among
ourselves if we do not fully engage all of our members and support them in their ability to fully
participate in the co-creation of and benefit from our social systems.
Social justice advocates want to prepare students to be productive citizens in a
democratic society (Goodlad, 1996). We must discuss our role and responsibility in creating
dependency, alienation, voids, and righteous anger in society due to lacking the wisdom each
individual brings through their participation. This approach will also help us to understand the
systems we have erected such that so many have already become alienated and righteously
angry,
8
and how to redress this.
In the case of younger children, there is a growing body of literature that indicates these
students can also be engaged more powerfully than is often done in typical educational reform
work (e.g., Leachman & Victor, 2003; Palmer & Wehmeyer, 2003). The question here is
whether we have done a thorough job of providing the full array of supports, infrastructure, and
opportunities from which everyone in society benefits. There is a plethora of data from all
sectors indicating that we have not. Until we do so, it may behoove us to suspend final
conclusions about who does and does not deserve to participate.
As Cook-Sather (2002) notes:
Although it is rarely articulated as such, the most basic premise upon which
different approaches to educational policy and practice rest is trustwhether or not
adults trust young people to be good (or not), to have and use relevant knowledge (or
not), and to be responsible (or not). The educational institutions and practices that have
prevailed in the United States, both historically and currently, reflect a basic lack of trust
in students and have evolved to keep students under control and in their place as the
largely passive recipients of what others determine is education. Since the beginning of
formal education students have been designated tabula rasa or worse, wild and
dangerous spirits in whom educators must inspire fear and awe… (p.4)
8
Witness the “Occupy” movements worldwide…
Student Voice 21
The “good citizen” can be framed in several ways: 1) citizenship manifested in
individual acts such as volunteering, 2) participating in local community affairs and staying
informed on local and national issues, and 3) the “justice-oriented citizen” who includes the
previous levels, but has a more critical stance on social, economic, and political issues (Watts
and Guessous, 2006 citing Westheimer and Kahne, 2003, p.60).
These authors point to these ways of moving in the world as linked to youth development
policy, intervention, and activism. This notion of activism is core to our ultimate student voice in
educational reform aims. Throughout the research and writing for this chapter, we have
constantly been asking, “To what end is all this work around educational systems change and
student voice? Toward what are we aiming and for what purpose? Why try to improve
educational systems?” Our answer has been consistently: So that we can create a society of
informed, engaged, and inspired people who are continually co-creating and re-inventing the
world and our social systems in more just fashions. When the editors of this book thought about
the most appropriate sections to include to further the national conversation about education
reform, as authors, we thought about the most forward-thinking ways we could present familiar
information and hopefully add something new and of value to the discussions.
This notion of student voice, if truly taken seriously, will have the ability to unearth our
assumptions about who participates and how, and what critical voices and perspectives may be
missing in how we have been conceptualizing how to improve educational systems. Again, this
is if we take this topic seriously.
In this chapter, we have attempted to lay out the various approaches we have seen taken
in student/youth voice in education reform, so that we could emphasize some of the more
powerful, robust approaches and how these can impact systems change work. We hope that
readers will take the information presented in this chapter and read the rest of the volume with
authentic student voice in mind: specifically, how student voice does, does not, can, and should
intersect with the education reform work we each feel is most important.
Student Voice 22
An Emerging Rubric for Evaluating Student Voice Approaches in
Educational Systems Change Efforts
Range of activities in
which youth can
participate, roles they play,
and levels of participation
open to youth
Attention to power,
cultural capital, and
student demographic
representation
Depth & quality of training
provided to youth and
adults
Infrastructure (staffing,
funding, policies,
structures, processes,
relationship to other
departments and
organizations, etc.)
Basic Practice:
Traditional, in classroom
and schools
Student opinions are
solicited; standard
structures such as student
councils and clubs exist;
classroom and school
practices presume that
adults choose and that
students comply.
Student participants
represent “typical” kids
and only those who are
successful in school.
No training or skill
building is provided
Adult involvement in
student voice work is
limited to those who
volunteer to lead a club, or
initiate it on their own.
Little or no resources are
provided to support such
activities. No policies
require student input or
involvement.
Emergent Practice:
Empowering students in
classrooms and schools
Students have multiple
opportunities to provide
feedback and to engage in
activities designed to
improve school, but these
are limited to traditional
focus on student
engagement in pre-set
school goals. May include
students in determining
classroom practices, but
have a limited role in
conceptualizing, designing,
Efforts are made to ensure
participation of diverse
students, i.e., those with
disabilities, gender, race,
ethnicity, languages,
relative success in school,
etc. and to attend to the
voices and perspectives of
those students.
Some training is provided,
but is directed at youth.
Teachers are invited to
include student voices in
classroom decision making,
but additional resources to
support that work, or to
remove barriers created by
curriculum or bell
schedules are not
addressed. Training in how
to do so is not provided,
and successful inclusion of
student voice is not part of
the reward or evaluation
Student Voice 23
Range of activities in
which youth can
participate, roles they play,
and levels of participation
open to youth
Attention to power,
cultural capital, and
student demographic
representation
Depth & quality of training
provided to youth and
adults
Infrastructure (staffing,
funding, policies,
structures, processes,
relationship to other
departments and
organizations, etc.)
implementing and/or
evaluating reform work
structure for adults.
Powerful Practice:
Classroom, school,
community and district
Students are engaged in
leadership roles in all
decision making groups at
the school, in the district,
and in the community;
students participate in
choosing issues to focus
on, developing data
collection methods and
collecting data, analyzing
data, making
recommendations, and
implementing and
evaluating changes. Robust
systems exist for youth to
participate in on-going
ways in the
conceptualization, design,
implementation, and
evaluation of reform
efforts in the classroom,
school, and community
All students participate in
a variety of decision
making forums-
representation of
demographic groups,
including race/ethnicity,
economic status, school
success, gender, ability,
and language is
proportional to school
population. Intentional
efforts to include the
perspectives of students
whose opinions and
experiences are different
(or in opposition) to the
school or larger population
are present.
Adults are encouraged to
engage students in active
learning to share decision
making in the classroom,
and to uncover students’
funds of knowledge and
use them to facilitate
learning and development.
Adults are encouraged to
develop opportunities for
students to engage in
extra-curricular activities.
Funding and resource
allocation, along with
professional development
activities, support these
goals.
School policies are
designed to focus attention
on the inclusion of youth
voice in decision-making,
not only at the classroom
level, but also at the school
and district levels. All
adults are expected to
participate with youth and
develop their own skills.
School actively pursues
relationships with other
organizations in the
community that extend
opportunities for
engagement and
emancipation. Funding and
structures ensure the
success of these efforts.
Student Voice 24
References
Alyeska, A. (1999). Motivation for Learning: A Discussion Among High School Students at
the Council of Chief State School Officers 1999 Summer Institute.” Prepared by the
Forum for Youth Investment, International Youth Foundation, and Youth Voices for
Educational Change. Facilitated by Merita Irby. Introduced by Karen Pittman. Edited by
Joel Tolman.
Bechtel, D., & Reed, C. (1998). Students as documenters: Benefits, reflections and suggestions.
NAASP, 82, 89-95.
Cammarota, J. and M. Fine, eds. (2008) Revolutionizing Education: Youth Participatory Action
Research in Motion. Routledge: New York, NY. Available at
http://ecoed.wikispaces.com/file/view/Revolutionizing_Education__Youth_Participatory
_Action_Research__Critical_Youth_Studies_.pdf
Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing students’ perspectives: Toward trust, dialogue, and change
in education. Educational Researcher, 31(4), 3-14.
Council of Chief State School Officers and the Forum for Youth Investment (2001). Students
continually learning: A report of presentations, student voices and state actions.
Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.
Davies, L. (2002). Possibilities and limits for democratization in education. Comparative
Education, 38(3), 251-266.
Erickon, F., & Shultz, J. (1992). Students’ experience of the curriculum. In P. Jackson (Ed.),
Handbook of research on curriculum (pp. 465-485). New York: MacMillan.
Finn, J., & Checkoway, B. (1998). Young people as competent community builders: A challenge
to social work. Social Work, 43(4), 335-346.
Ferguson, D. L., Kozleski, E. B., & Smith, A. (2003). Transformed, inclusive schools: A
framework to guide fundamental change in urban schools. Effective Education for
Learners with Exceptionalities, 15, 43-74.
Forum for Youth Investment. (2005).Youth Engagement in Educational Change: Working
Definition and Lessons from the Field. Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth
Investment, Impact Strategies, Inc.
Freire, P. (2005). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Continuum International
Publishing Group.
Fullan, M. (2000). The three stories of education reform. Phi Delta Kappan, 8, 581-584.
Gay, G. (1997). The Relationship between multicultural and democratic education. The Social
Studies, 88(1), 5-12.
Geren, P. (2001). Public discourse: creating the conditions for dialogue concerning the common
good in a postmodern heterogeneous democracy. Studies in Philosophy and Education,
20, 191-199.
Giles, H. C. (1998). Parent Engagement as a School Reform Strategy. ERIC/CUE Digest
Student Voice 25
Number 135. U.S.; New York.
Giroux, H. (1997). Pedagogy and the politics of hope: Theory, culture, and schooling. Boulder,
CO: Westview Press.
Glendon, M. (1991). Rights talk: The impoverishment of political discourse. New York: Free
Press.
Goodlad, J. I. (1996). Sustaining and extending educational renewal. Phi Delta Kappan, 78(3),
228-234.
Hosang, D. (2003). Youth and community organizing today. Occasional Papers Series on Youth
Organizing. No. 02. New York, NY: Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing.
Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. New York, NY: Random House.
Joselowsky, F. & Davis, K. (2004). Meaningful youth roles: Engagement strategies to move
young people to the center of high school reform. Reflections from workshops in
California. Forum for Youth Investment.
Joselowsky, F., Thomases, J., & Yohalem, N. (2004). Creating ‘good’ schools observation and
discussion tool: Helping young people and adults have conversations about what makes a
‘good’ youth-centered school. http://www.forumforyouthinvestment.org.
Klingner, J. K., Artiles, A. J., Kozleski, E., Harry, B., Zion, S., Tate, W., et al. (2005).
Addressing the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse
students in special education through culturally responsive educational systems.
Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(38), 1-42.
Lee, L. & Zimmerman, M. (n.d.). Passion, action and a new vision for student voice:
Learnings from the Manitoba School Improvement Program. Winnipeg, Canada: The
Manitoba School Improvement Program.
Levin, B. (1999). Putting students at the centre in education reform. Winnipeg, Canada:
University of Manitoba, Continuing Education Division.
Levin, B. (2000). Putting students at the center in education reform. Journal of Educational
Change, 1, 155172.
Lincoln, Y. (1995). In search of students’ voices. Theory into Practice, 34(2), 88-93.
Lindsey, R., Nuri Robins, K., & Terrell, R. (2009). Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School
Leaders. Corwin Press; Thousand Oaks, CA.
LISTEN, Inc. (2003, February). An Emerging Model for Working with Youth: Community
Organizing + Youth Development = Youth Organizing. Occasional Papers Series on
Youth Organizing, No. 01. New York, NY: Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing.
http://www.fcyo.org/media/docs/8141_Papers_no1_v4.qxd.pdf.
McLaren, P. (1989). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundation of
education. New York, NY: Longman.
Mediratta, K., & Fruchter, N. (2001). Mapping the field of organizing for school improvement: A
report on education organizing in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Mississippi
Student Voice 26
Delta, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC. New York,
NY: New York University, Institute for Education and Social Policy, with California
Tomorrow, Designs for Change, and Southern Echo.
Metzger, D. (2004). Rethinking classroom management: Teaching and learning with students.
Social Studies and the Young Learner, 17(2), 13-15.
Miramontes, O., Nadeau, A., & Commins, N. L. (1997). Restructuring schools for linguistic
diversity: Linking decision-making to effective programs. New York, NY: Teachers
College Press.
Novak, B. (2002). Humanizing democracy: Mathew Arnold’s nineteenth-century call for a
common, higher, educative pursuit of happiness and its relevance to twenty-first-century
democratic life. American Education Research Journal, 39(3), 593-637.
O’Hair, M. J., McLaughlin, J., & Reitzug, U. L. (2000). Foundations of democratic education.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Petty, S. (2008). Oakland Street Academy: Alternative School Lessons for Mainstream
Education. Fielding Graduate University: Santa Barbara, CA. Unpublished dissertation,
Pittman, K. & Tolman, J. (2002). New directions in school reform youth-focused strategies
versus youth-centered reform. The Forum for Youth Investment.
Reigeluth, C. M. (1994). What is systemic change and is it needed? In Systemic change in
education (p. 172). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Education Technology Publications.
Robinson, C. & Taylor, C. (2007). Theorizing student voice: Values and perspectives.
Improving Schools, 10(1), 5-17.
Scheie, D., Robillos, M., Bischoff, M., & Langley, B. (2003). Organizing for Youth
Development and School Improvement: Final Report from a Strategic Assessment.
Prepared for the Edward W. Hazen Foundation. Minneapolis, MN: Rainbow Research,
Inc.
Smith, W. & Fenstermacher, G. (Eds.). (1999). Leadership for educational renewal: Developing
a cadre of leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Squire, K. D. & Reigeluth, C. M. (2000). The many faces of systems change. Educational
Horizons, 78(3), 143-152.
Tolman, J., Ford, P., & Irby, M. (2003). What works in education reform: Putting young people
at the center. International Youth Foundation.
Torres-Fleming, A., Valdes, P., & Pillai, S.. (2010). 2010 Youth Organizing Field Scan.
Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO).
http://www.fcyo.org/media/docs/7697_2010FCYOYouthOrganizingFieldScan_FINAL.p
df
Watts, R. J. & Guessous, O. (2006). Sociopolitical development: The missing link in research
and policy on adolescents. In Shawn Ginwright, Pedro Noguera, & Julio Cammarota,
Student Voice 27
(Eds.), Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change. New York,
NY:Routledge.
What Kids Can Do. (2003). First ask, then listen: How to get your students to help you teach
them better. A Teachers Guide.
What Kids Can Do and MetLife Foundation. (2004). Students as allies in improving their
schools. A Report on Work in Progress.
Zion, S. D. (2009). Systems, Stakeholders, and Students: Including Students in School Reform.
Improving Schools. 12 (2), 131-143.
... climate (Zion & Petty, 2013) through activities such as creating "class maps" (Doll, Spies, LeClair, Kurien, & Foley, 2010) and grounding instruction and materials in students' cultural repertoires and backgrounds (Gay, 2000;Ladson-Billings, 2002;González, Moll & Amanti, 2005). Within such activities, students often were positioned as informants and benefi ciaries of adults' systemic transformation work. ...
... YPAR processes focus particularly on building relationships, ensuring a diverse coalition, meeting people where they are, emphasizing action, and asking for what you need (Santilli, Carroll-Scott, & Ickovics, 2016; Warpehoski, 2019), using YPAR as a tool and process to engage these activities (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2013;Bettencourt, 2018). In school settings, building these relationships is particularly challenging as adult/student roles are already clearly defi ned as part of school culture (Zion & Petty, 2013). Institutionalized adultism-assumptions that students are not interested or engaged, and fear of student critiqueimpacts the willingness of adults to create meaningful spaces for student participation (Zion, Allen, & Jean, 2015;Hipolito-Delgado & Zion, 2017). ...
... For example, students who participated in the Critical Civic Inquiry (CCI) classroom project 2 showed increases in academic achievement, effi cacy, and engagement along with the development of an identity as a member of a larger community committed to social justice (Kirshner, 2015;Hipolito-Delgado & Zion, 2017). Teachers participating in CCI improved their capacity to share power, facilitate YPAR, and take on leadership roles in their schools (Kirshner, Hipolito-Delgado, & Zion, 2015;Zion, York, & Stickney, 2017); Although less common, we have seen examples where schools and school districts that sustain systems for student participation lead to more socially just and developmentally responsive school cultures (Zion & Petty, 2013). TSV emphasizes the following core processes and values, as posited by Robinson and Taylor (2007): 1. "communication as dialogue" where there is trust, openness, and collaboration; 2. including all voices, especially those who have been historically "silenced" or are considered "critical or confl icting" to dominant ways of communicating; 3. recognizing that power relations are unequal, and hence, attention must be paid to which students are listened to and how they are listened to; and 4. acknowledging that change is possible through acting on the contributions of students as change agents (p. ...
Article
The approach and case example described in this article build on and extend the role of student voice and authentic youth–adult partnerships in prior work of the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (2009), a national technical assistance and dissemination center funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. I describe and illustrate how the conceptual tools of critical consciousness, systemic change, and transformative student voice are applied to a process of critical civic inquiry within one school community where students and adults come together to identify issues of racial inequity that need to be addressed through policy and practice shifts, along with ongoing work to remedy these issues.
... It includes constructivist frameworks that build on students' own experiences and link them to their classroom work; inclusive curricula; and unmasking oppressive school and community structures and taking their knowledge beyond the classroom (Aronson & Laughter, 2016). Student voice initiatives (Mitra, 2008;Zion, 2013) provide a pathway for youth to contribute their knowledge and perspectives to the adults in their schools and in so doing to influence school culture. Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), is Action Research (Stringer, 2013) is a collaborative iterative process in which problems are defined, steps decided on and taken, progress assessed, and next steps chosen, with each further change managed in the same way. ...
... It conceptualizes youth involvement as one part of a partnership with adults in the school (Means et al., 2021;Zion, 2020) that emphasizes the voices of students (Anderson, 2018;Sussman, 2015) while acknowledging the inevitable power differential between adults and students. Like the student voices framework (Mitra, 2008;Zion, 2013). YPAR is employed to ameliorate dysfunction in educational systems, particularly at the K-12 level, and it engages students as researchers and translators of student perceptions (Mitra, 2008;Zion 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
This qualitative study examines the progress of a rural New Jersey school in addressing longstanding racial conflict after implementing a Youth Participatory Action Research project two years prior. Here we take up the thread as students continued to develop activities meant to increase awareness of ongoing issues, and as adults used professional development time to model best practices in managing racialized interactions. Eight teachers and staff not originally involved and nine students who had been directly involved were interviewed and a student focus group conducted. All participants agreed that progress had been made though issues around curriculum and discipline remained. Both the adults and the students engaged in considerable self-reflection about their roles. Adults reported the impact of hearing the students’ voices on school practices, and students discussed how their roles as researchers and peer leaders had contributed to their standing as experts.
... One powerful opportunity for resistance is student voice work--in the context of schools, voice is essential in the "student's ability to participate and enter into dialogue within the classroom, and as a result, participate in a democratic social process" (Darder, 1991, p. 66)." Zion & Petty (2013) lay out a conceptual framework for student voice work that demonstrates 1) how students need to be respected as thoughtful participants, 2) that adult practitioners need to learn from and with students, and 3) from this place, issues of equity, discrimination, and structural inequality, might be addressed. Further, they note that engaging in resistance toward oppressive systems requires skill building on the part of both students and adults-which remains a challenge even for those researchers and practitioners who are committed to the sociopolitical development of youth, and resistance in oppressive systems (Watts & Hipolito-Delgado, 2015). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
In the 30 years since Giroux (1983) named schools as a site of resistance, little has happened to sustain and embed that practice in schools. The contexts, structures, and policies in schools do not foster opportunities for resistance, and schools of education do not prepare teachers to support students' critical actions in schools, ensuring the reproduction of inequity and injustice. While this is true for all historically marginalized groups, the specific legacy of discrimination (i.e., threats of deportation) faced by Latinx students and communities in the western United States often serves to silence their voices and efforts at resistance (Darder, Noguera, Fuentes, & Sanchez, 2012). In this chapter, we examine data from a student voice research project, including weekly observations (n =102) for the school year across three public school classrooms, teacher reflections, and student work. This work is framed by the theory of sociopolitical development, implicating both teachers and students in the process of resistance and liberation. The data we explore captures (1) early conversations between students and teachers about issues of racial and economic injustice, (2) the initial resistance of students to having those conversations, (3) increasing trust between teachers and students supporting engagement with the issues, (4) students' active resistance toward the issues that impacted them, (5) teachers and students working together to challenge unjust policies - at the school, district, and state level.
... One powerful opportunity for resistance is student voice work--in the context of schools, voice is essential in the "student's ability to participate and enter into dialogue within the classroom, and as a result, participate in a democratic social process" (Darder, 1991, p. 66)." Zion & Petty (2013) lay out a conceptual framework for student voice work that demonstrates 1) how students need to be respected as thoughtful participants, 2) that adult practitioners need to learn from and with students, and 3) from this place, issues of equity, discrimination, and structural inequality, might be addressed. Further, they note that engaging in resistance toward oppressive systems requires skill building on the part of both students and adults-which remains a challenge even for those researchers and practitioners who are committed to the sociopolitical development of youth, and resistance in oppressive systems (Watts & Hipolito-Delgado, 2015). ...
Working Paper
Full-text available
In the 30 years since Giroux (1983) named schools as a site of resistance, little has happened to sustain and embed that practice in schools. The contexts, structures, and policies in schools do not foster opportunities for resistance, and schools of education do not prepare teachers to support students’ critical actions in schools, ensuring the reproduction of inequity and injustice. While this is true for all historically marginalized groups, the specific legacy of discrimination (ie: threats of deportation) faced by Latinx students and communities in the western United States often serves to silence their voices and efforts at resistance (Darder et al 2012). In this chapter, we examine data from a student voice research project, including weekly observations (n=102) for the school year across three public school classrooms, teacher reflections, and student work. This work is framed by the theory of sociopolitical development, implicating both teachers and students in the process of resistance and liberation. The data we explore captures 1) early conversations between students and teachers about issues of racial and economic injustice 2) the initial resistance of students to having those conversations 3) increasing trust between teachers and students supporting engagement with the issues 4) students’ active resistance toward the issues that impacted them 5) teachers and students working together to challenge unjust policies -at the school, district, and state level. (19) (PDF) Bound Together Bound Together: White Teachers/Latinx Students Revising Resistance. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307534345_Bound_Together_Bound_Together_White_TeachersLatinx_Students_Revising_Resistance [accessed Nov 14 2018].
Book
Henry A. Giroux is one of the most respected and well-known critical education scholars, social critics, and astute observers of popular culture in the modern world. For those who follow his considerably influential work in critical pedagogy and social criticism, this first-ever collection of his classic writings, augmented by a new essay, is a must-have volume that reveals his evolution as a scholar. In it, he takes on three major considerations central to pedagogy and schooling.The first section offers Girouxs most widely read theoretical critiques on the culture of positivism and technocratic rationality. He contends that by emphasizing the logic of science and rationality rather than taking a holistic worldview, these approaches fail to take account of connections among social, political, and historical forces or to consider the importance of such connections for the process of schooling. In the second section, Giroux expands the theoretical framework for conceptualizing and implementing his version of critical pedagogy. His theory of border pedagogy advocates a democratic public philosophy that embraces the notion of difference as part of a common struggle to extend the quality of public life. For Giroux, a student must function as a border-crosser, as a person moving in and out of physical, cultural, and social borders. He uses the popular medium of Hollywood film to show students how they might understand their own position as partly constructed within a dominant Eurocentric tradition and how power and authority relate to the wider society as well as to the classroom.In the last section, Giroux explores a number of contemporary traditions and issues, including modernism, postmodernism, and feminism, and discusses the matter of cultural difference in the classroom. Finally, in an essay written especially for this volume, Giroux analyzes the assault on education and teachers as public intellectuals that began in the Reagan-Bush era and continues today. Henry A. Giroux is one of the most respected and well-known critical education scholars, social critics, and astute observers of popular culture in the modern world. For those who follow his considerably influential work in critical pedagogy and social criticism, this first-ever collection of his classic writings, augmented by a new essay, is a must-have volume that reveals his evolution as a scholar. In it, he takes on three major considerations central to pedagogy and schooling.The first section offers Girouxs most widely read theoretical critiques on the culture of positivism and technocratic rationality. He contends that by emphasizing the logic of science and rationality rather than taking a holistic worldview, these approaches fail to take account of connections among social, political, and historical forces or to consider the importance of such connections for the process of schooling. In the second section, Giroux expands the theoretical framework for conceptualizing and implementing his version of critical pedagogy. His theory of border pedagogy advocates a democratic public philosophy that embraces the notion of difference as part of a common struggle to extend the quality of public life. For Giroux, a student must function as a border-crosser, as a person moving in and out of physical, cultural, and social borders. He uses the popular medium of Hollywood film to show students how they might understand their own position as partly constructed within a dominant Eurocentric tradition and how power and authority relate to the wider society as well as to the classroom.In the last section, Giroux explores a number of contemporary traditions and issues, including modernism, postmodernism, and feminism, and discusses the matter of cultural difference in the classroom. Finally, in an essay written especially for this volume, Giroux analyzes the assault on education and teachers as public intellectuals that began in the Reagan-Bush era and continues today.
Article
A dual agenda of renewing schools and teacher education means that faculty members from both sides must join together as equal partners. Mr. Goodlad describes how the National Network for Educational Renewal has met the challenges of creating, sustaining, and inspiring such partnerships.
Article
This article reports on a pilot study of exemplary communitybased youth initiatives in the United States in which young people are active participants in solving problems, planning programs, and providing services at the community level. The article presents brief summaries of six initiatives illustrating a range of youth participation in the issues that affect their lives and their communities. These diverse initiatives exemplify a view of young people as resources and promote individual, organizational, and community development. They were selected on the basis of their commitment to youth involvement, capacity building, collaboration, cultural awareness, community-defined concerns, leadership development, continuity, and comprehensive and change-oriented practice. The initiatives provide lessons for practice and challenge social workers to build meaningful partnerships and practice approaches that challenge problemoriented interventions and recognize young people as competent community builders.
Article
The main enemies of large-scale reform are overload and extreme fragmentation, Mr. Fullan points out. The three stories he outlines here serve to lend coherence to an otherwise disjointed system. Those involved in reform, from the schoolhouse to the state house, can take advantage of the growing knowledge base embedded in this framework to combat these enemies of large-scale reform. IT TAKES ABOUT three years to achieve successful change in student performance in an elementary school. Depending on size, it takes about six years to do so in a secondary school. 1. While this is good news, there are two serious problems with this finding. First, these successes occur in only a small number of schools; that is, these reform efforts have not "gone to scale" and been widely reproduced. Second, and equally problematic, there is no guarantee that the initial success will last. Put in terms of the change process, there has been strong adoption and implementation, but not strong institutionalization.
Article
Editor’s Note: This article continues the focus of our special issue theme of Summer 2002— Education and Democracy. Democratic educational reform should promote full-bodied democratic life. To help address the limited vision of humanity prevailing in the current wave of educational reforms—reforms that are being undertaken in the name of democracy while they promote undemocratic and pusillanimous forms of human life—this essay examines a nineteenth-century recommendation for democratic educational reform calling for a broadly accessible liberal education to cultivate a magnanimous and civic-minded democratic populace. This old vision might begin to provide us with a new road map for the reforms being undertaken in our own time, encouraging us to seek—far beyond mechanical measurements of mechanical performances—the standards of cultural, civic, and spiritual enlargement that we must collectively understand and strive toward if we wish to use democratic educational reform to help constitute a bona fide democracy.