Kentucky’s Student Voice Movement

In states across the U.S., there have been divergent efforts to promote student voice in a variety of ways over the years. This month I want to feature Kentucky, which has BLOWN UP dramatically over the last year after more than a decade of strong efforts.

In my studies and discussions with student voice advocates, researchers and practitioners across the state, no single leader has emerged as leading the way for all others to follow. Instead, there are several different locations where action has emerged, spread, died off and reemerged again.

After partnering with a program there this school year and helping friends there with a separate initiative, I want to feature the great work I’ve found going there not just right now, but over the course of my 15 years in this field.

Following are several examples of Kentucky’s student voice movement over the years:

  • (1997) Students as Informants: In 1997, the Partnership for Kentucky Schools and Roberts & Kay, Inc. launched a statewide research project promoting student voice called “Students Speak”. They conducted dozens of data-gathering activities with students, wrote several reports and created resources for others. One is the Students Speak Tool Kit, developed to guide educators, school board members, parents and others in planning and carrying out strategies for listening to students in order to improve their school experiences, including academic performance, school climate, and school safety. Find the toolkit and more here.
  • (1998) Students as Decision-Makers: In 1998, then-doctoral candidate George Patmor conducted a statewide study of high school schools in Kentucky. He surveyed 310 students and adults opinions about how students should be involved in school decision-making. I have talked with George repeatedly over the years, and hosted a visit for him here in Washington State a decade ago to talk about his work. A summary of his research is here, and a full version of his dissertation is available from SoundOut.
  • (2002) Students as Policy-Makers: In June 2002, Kentucky’s then-Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit requested the Kentucky Department of Education gather preliminary information concerning student input to education policymakers. An intern named Zach Webb conducted interviews with more than 20 state boards of education to discern what the national scene was. I admired this report so much, A National Assessment of Student Involvement in School Policy-Making – Meeting Kentucky’s Educational Needs: Proficiency, Achievement Gaps, and the Potential of Student Involvement (2002), I put it on the SoundOut website with Webb’s permission.
  • (2010) Students as Informants: The Kentucky Department of Education is facilitating statewide data collection via a Student Voice Survey. Its questions are aligned to The Kentucky Framework for Teaching, which was adapted from the Charlotte Danielson framework for teaching. Districts are encouraged to share the Student Voice Survey questions. The 3-5 and 6-12 Student Voice Survey questions are available in the toolkit here. Read an article about the tool and its context here.
  • (2012) Students as Advocates: In September 2012, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence formed a Student Voice Team. Today, After spinning off into their own nonprofit, today the SVT is comprised of middle school through college students working to elevate the voices of Kentucky youth on the classroom impact of education issues and support students as policy partners in improving Kentucky schools. Since then, they’ve launched a variety of advocacy campaigns meant to build the state’s student voice movement. I admire the SVT greatly and follow their work regularly. Learn more here.
  • (2013) Students as Learners: The Green River Educational Cooperative and the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative operate a program called kid∙FRIENDLy. Working with dozens of districts in their regions, kid∙FRIENDLy is promoting student voice as a component of their classroom transformation efforts. I worked with them this year to help teachers in these regions grapple with classroom-focused student voice efforts. Learn more here.

To date, many things have transformed, improved and been changed throughout the state. I think one of the morals of the story that’s implicit in this laundry list, though, is the need for a larger framework that infuses student voice into a sustainable course of educational transformation. I wrote the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change to help with this type of effort; perhaps people in Kentucky might consider it as they proceed.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to follow up with any of the leads above to learn what’s happening right now, and to visit their social media, too.

Kentucky’s Student Voice Movement is a model for the nation and the world. What’s happening in YOUR community today?!?

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Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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