Students as Allies in School Reform: A New Call for Action!



Adult researchers have written all these reports about which students are failing and why. It’s time students became the studiers and not just the studied. — Student, Houston, TX

For once, I hope my students believe this is going to bring about real changes in our school. Otherwise, they could care less. The real work starts where the data leaves off. – Teacher, Houston, TX

Several years ago the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University, as part of its Youth Engaged in Leadership & Learning (Y.E.L.L.) program, created a step-by-step handbook of lesson plans, activities, and worksheets that introduce youth to different research methods, analytical tools, and presentation skills involved in action research. The lessons can be adapted to meet the needs and interests of different communities and can be facilitated by teachers and educators in school and out-of-school contexts. The publication is called Handbook for Supporting Community Youth Researchers. Download PDF (114pp.)

Matthew Goldwasser, Ph.D., formerly at Research for Action in Philadelphia, wrote wonderful, short publication called A Guide to Facilitating Action Research for Youth. It covers three major stages in the process of action research projects: “WHAT?”—choosing a research topic and collecting data; “SO WHAT?”—analyzing and interpreting the findings; and “NOW WHAT?”—making sense of a study’s findings. Within each of these sections are subsections related to steps in the action research process. Each subsection includes descriptions of one or more group activities that facilitators can use with students to help them develop needed skills. Download PDF (48pp.)

One of the challenges of action research is deciding which issues flagged by the research should be targets for focused efforts at change and how to effect the changes desired. A lot has been written about subject, especially within the field of community organizing. Youth on Board, which prepares youth to be leaders and decision makers in their communities, has pulled from this literature to create an informal student-centered manual, Steps to Organize and Advocate for Change. Included, too, are ground rules for making sure advocacy does not become confrontational, and for giving appreciation. Download PDF (11pp.)

See also

Youth Action for Educational Change: A Resource Guide, by the Forum for Youth Investment, offers an annotated list of useful research, frameworks, stories, and studies. Download PDF (12pp)

Education Change and Youth Development: Strategies for Success (2009), by the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), presents a compelling case for why and how education change efforts must be driven by youth engagement strategies. Based on field stories, research, and YLI’s own work of engaging youth in community policy and decision-making systems, this guidebook offers a practice-based model for intentional and meaningful youth engagement in education change. Download PDF (21pp)





Student Voices Count: A Student-Led Evaluation of High Schools in Oakland, CA. Written by Kids First’s REAL HARD—a group of activist youth in Oakland, CA—this report summarizes a year’s research involving 1,000 students. Students share their findings at a press conference at City Hall the day before the state took control of the city’s public schools. Download PDF (18pp.)

North High School Report: The Voice of Over 700 Students. Responding to community outcry about low academic achievement at Denver, CO’s North High School, students in a group called Jovenes Unidos investigated the crisis in depth and developed their own solutions. This is the third report produced by students at North about conditions at their school. Download PDF (35pp.)

School Climate in Boston’s High Schools: What Students Say. As part of a district-wide high school renewal initiative in Boston, MA, a diverse group of students were recruited and trained to gather information from their classmates and increase student voice in the change process. Download PDF (26pp.)




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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator