A Review of
Urban Kids: School Reform And The Teachers They
Meaningful Student Involvement Research Review by Adam Fletcher.
to Urban Kids provides a broad
account of what middle school students at several low-performing
schools think about their education. Based on the three-year study
conducted by Wilson and Corbett in five Philadelphia middle schools,
the authors conclude that successful school reform should become
noticeable in what students say about school. They argue that
students’ input should be an important part of planning, implementing,
and adjusting reform.
The authors of Listening share students'
unaltered comments about a variety of topics that have direct
relevance in school change. The second chapter addresses the changes
that students said they witnessed during the three-year study period.
The next chapter highlights the students' descriptions of the
differences in pedagogy, subject content, and learning environment as
they moved from classroom to classroom. The fourth chapter contains
the most crucial section of the book, emphasizing the value of
students as constructive education critics. The remainder of the book
discusses students' experiences in middle school, the implications of
the students' descriptions and insights for educational reform, and
the value of using students as resources on the progress of reform.
The researchers originally
conducted a series of interviews with a cohort of 247 sixth grade
students from six schools. Over three years the number was reduced to
153. Interviewing was an informal process that happened in casual
settings throughout the schools, with the researchers emphasizing a
casual approach in order to make students more comfortable. The book
relies heavily on direct quotes from students, maintaining their
original grammar. Throughout the book there is minimal commentary by
Listening offers several important thoughts from
Students value teachers who
give them the extra help they need to succeed and explain their
Students said that they
want teachers who believe in them.
Students not only value
having a variety of activities in the classroom, they value teachers
who use content that mirrors real life, making schoolwork relevant
important conclusion of the study comes from the authors’ advocacy for
“reforming with, not for, students” (p126). Distinguishing between
students as “beneficiaries” or “participants”, the authors call for
educators to explore how successful any reform truly is. This is
particularly important when reform practices runs counter to what the
literature on change recommends – that is, engaging the recipients as
main contributors to the process. According to this study, if
education leaders listened to students, “they would find out that they
have invaluable partners in the educational enterprise – if only
students had the chance” (p128).
offers an important introduction to the validity of student voice.
However, without encouraging the engagement of students as meaningful
actors in school change efforts, Listening misses the glaring
potential of being a rallying call for meaningful student involvement.