Reforming K-12 Education by Listening to Students
If you have been following my work over the last decade and a half, then you have read my writings on education reform, and how the U.S. education system can improve its effectiveness. During this time, I have read almost every article and book on the subject, to be well informed. However, one area of education reform that seems to receive the least amount of attention is the role that students can play in the process.
In the pursuit of education reform and school improvement, we often leave the opinions of this important group out of the equation, believing that the adults in the room have the most nuanced perspectives on the subject. This is a big mistake, as students hold the missing puzzle piece to effective and sustained school improvement. They know what works, what doesn’t work, and with this information, we can effectively transform the U.S. education system. And just think, we have been looking for the answer, and it was one missing data set away.
Think about it. If we combine the expertise and insight of administrators, teachers, parents, and students together, we can create an education system that can prepare all students to compete in the global economy.
So how do you gather the data that we need from our students?
- Surveys – One of the most efficient ways to gather data is via a survey. In this survey, we should ask students pertinent questions about the teaching and learning process, school culture and climate, race relations, high stakes tests, and discipline, at their school. I would stay away surveys that only ask multiple choice questions. Make sure you include fill in the blank, and essay questions, to allow students to express themselves. The great thing about surveys is that you can make them anonymous, which will increase the likelihood that students will speak freely. The survey should be administered yearly, and more frequently, if needed.
- Forums – Host a forum for each K-12 grade level, and ask students questions about the teaching and learning process, school culture and climate, race relations, high stakes tests, and discipline, at their school. Have someone to record their answers. Make sure you create an environment where students feel free to speak their mind, without fear of backlash from teachers, parents, or administrators. One way to accomplish this is to make the forums student-led. I would choose students who are leaders amongst their peers, and as a result, garner respect and trust. Forums could be held a minimum of twice a year, to maximize their effectiveness.
Once you have the data that you need, you can use it to bolster your school improvement efforts. Students will be thrilled to see some of their suggestions being implemented, which will motivate them to engage in their studies fully, and place more trust in the educational process.
What do you think? Is student voice and perspective the missing link in the education reform process?