That’s right: Let’s empower the very people we aim to be teaching with the ability to turn schools around! After more than 100 years of being subjected to the whims of adult teachers, principals, administrators, and school boards, I am nominating that we put the students in the driver’s seat and see where they take us.
This isn’t a proposal on a whim, either. After 10 years of working in local schools, districts, and state education agencies across the U.S. and Canada to promote student engagement, I have seen the increasing power of effectiveness of students as they become more savvy within the education system. My research has shown me there are districts that have regular student boards of education who are fully empowered to make changes to school policies. While we’re all familiar with the popularity of student-led self-evaluations, a growing number of schools have student-led evaluations that impact teacher performance ratings and pay. Still other schools are engaging students as education researchers, summer schools are hiring students as teachers, districts have roles for students as curriculum planners and classroom evaluators, and there are even states that have positions for students as full-voting members of their state boards of education. I have discovered all of this, and seen a lot of it in action.
Since the beginning of the modern school reform movement educators have been duped into believing there is inherent value to allowing our public education system to be governed by technicians. Test-makers, curriculum writers, and state evaluators are nothing more than education technicians. They are the people who should be learning from what teachers do, rather than dictating what teachers do. Instead of that, teachers are routinely relegated to the back seat and made into mere pawns of the schools they work in. While that sounds like a soulless, harsh analysis, it’s not the worst of it. Students themselves are on the short end of the stick, as they are treated like nothing more than succeeding generations of test subjects. Without their consent or their parents’ direct knowledge of what is going on, young people in public schools are made to fulfill whatever whim the technicians present next.
I want to turn that paradigm on it’s head, and luckily, there is growing evidence that not only is this needed, it is happening right now. A growing commitment of educators to engage students in school improvement activities is evidence of the changing trends in education that will ultimately empower students to turn around schools. This is the best news in education yet, and the highest hope we can have for meaningful student involvement.