A program of CommonAction Consulting.

About Us

Our Activities

Our Resources

Contact Us


 SoundOut on Facebook

SoundOut is an expert assistance program focused on promoting Student Voice and Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education.


We work with K-12 schools, districts, state and provincial education agencies, and nonprofit education organizations across the United States and Canada.


<Back to Articles



Unleashing Student Voice:

Research Supporting

Meaningful Student Involvement

by Adam Fletcher


     In the introduction to Savage Inequalities Jonathan Kozol observes, “[W]e have not been listening much to children in these recent years of ‘summit conferences’ on education, of severe reports, and ominous prescriptions.  The voices of children, frankly, have been missing from the whole discussion” (p5).  While studies have clearly shown that students are most likely to be engaged in learning when they are active and given some choice and control over the learning process, many teachers rely on student passivity, rote learning, and routine in instruction with young people of all ages (Goodlad, 1984; Yair, 2000). 


One author stated that engaged students make a “psychological investment in learning.  They try hard to learn what school offers.  They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating it in their lives” (Newmann, 1992).  Empowered student voice in educational reform is increasingly identified as critical to the successful implementation of specific academic programs and projects (Ericson & Ellett, 2002; Wilson & Corbett, 2001; Cook-Sather, 2002; Beresford, 2000).  In response to these urgent calls for meaningful student involvement, some educators and community workers are infusing student voice into educational planning, research, instruction, and evaluation.


The documented benefits of meaningful student involvement are wide-ranging.  In one compilation of youth involvement case studies from around the world (Golombek, 2002), several programs recited similar reasons for deepening youth involvement in their programs.  Reasons included youth developing leadership skills, adults earning young peoples’ trust, and increased engagement of young peoples’ capacity to make a difference in their communities.  Another study found that through meaningful involvement young people experienced relevancy of learning, empowered voice, meaningful skill-building, and affirmation from adults and their peers (Zeldin & Price, 1995).  Studies indicate that young people who are engaged in meaningful community activities are more likely to understand civic engagement, political socialization, and how passive citizenry can be manipulated by political ideologues (Bellig, 2000; Evans & Anthony, 1991).  Research has also found that young people engaged in service to their school are more likely to be actively engaged in their communities throughout their lives (Lesko & Tsouronis, 1998; Constitutional Rights Foundation & Close-Up Foundation, 1995).  One study of the impacts of young people on adult-led organizations found that engaging youth as active decision-makers benefited organizations in positive ways that included clarification of purpose and mission, program improvements, and more directly meeting community needs (Zeldin, et al., 2000). 


How student voice is interjected and towards what ends is a question of intention.  Giving students a voice entails more than asking young people for periodic comments or feedback during an externally controlled process (Onore, 1992).  Studies exploring schools as communities for learning through service to others report increased student cooperation, enjoyment of the learning environment (Sparapani, 2000), quality increases in student work and better grades (Follman, 1998), and heightened participation in classrooms (Loesch-Griffin, et al., 1995).  Studies show that meaningfully involved students have more positive relationships with teachers, and can be successful allies in the classroom (Houghton, 2001; Weiler, et al., 1998).  Research examining engaging students as researchers found that individual youth development, furthering community empowerment, and organizational capacity building are all outcomes of engaging youth in community organizations (Harvard Family Research Project, 2002), while research on students conducting meaningful classroom evaluation shows significant correlations between students’ ratings of teachers with their own learning gains (Scriven, 1995).  Studies have shown that students lead parent conferences is a successful method for increasing student ownership in learning (Hackman, 1997).  Reports show that voter participation and civic engagement can be enhanced if students were members of local school boards (Keating, 1995).  Furthermore, research indicates that students want to be involved in school board activities, such as significant school planning, choosing curriculum, hiring teachers, and deciding policy (Patmor, 1998; Marques, 2001; Kaba, 2001).  Research also found that students participating in meaningful activities such as school accreditation processes and school reform conferences are less cynical and apathetic because they “were really listened to and had impact” (McCall, 2000).


While this documentation covers a wide breadth of potential opportunities, more research is needed on the role of student voice in building engaged citizenry.  Absent are cross-examinations between the experience of meaningful youth involvement in community organizations and meaningful student involvement in schools.  I have not found any research that examines the direct correlation between any of these forms of meaningful student involvement and academic achievement.  Other issues such as the academic achievement gap, racial, ethnic, religious and socio-economic diversity in student involvement also need further investigation.  Nevertheless, this brief overview demonstrates that research in this area is burgeoning and with proper guidance can further contribute to structural means to significantly involve young people in many of the decisions that directly affect their lives, schools, and local communities.




  Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing Students' Perspectives: Toward Trust, Dialogue, and Change in Education. Educational Researcher, (31)4, 3-14.  Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  Beresford, J. (2000). Student Perspectives on School Improvement. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Conference, Cardiff University, September, 2000.  Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  Billig, S. (2000). The Impacts of Service-Learning on Youth, Schools and Communities: Research on K-12 School-Based Service-Learning, 1990–1999.  Denver: RMC Research Corporation with W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


  Constitutional Rights Foundation and the Close-Up Foundation (1995). Active Citizenship Today Field Guide. Los Angeles, CA:  Constitutional Rights Foundation.


  Ericson, D. P. & Ellett, F. S. (2002, July 2). The question of the student in educational reform. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(31). Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  Evans, R. and Anthony, J. (1991 June). Active Learning: Students and the School Budget Process. The Social Studies. 56-61.


  Follman, J. (1998). Florida Learn and Serve: 1996-97 Outcomes and Correlations with 1994-95 and 1995-96. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University, Center for Civic Education and Service.


  Golombek, Silvia ed. (2002). What Works in Youth Participation: Case Studies from Around the World, Baltimore: International Youth Foundation.  Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  Goodlad, J. (1984). A Place Called School. New York: McGraw  Hill.


  Hackman, D. (1997). Student-Led Conferences at the Middle Level. Champagne, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No ED407171).


  Harvard Family Research Project.  (2002) Youth Involvement in Evaluation & Research, Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation, 1.  Boston: Author.


  Houghton, P. (2001, May). Finding Allies: Sustaining Teachers' Health and Well-Being.  Phi Delta Kappan, 706-712.


  Kaba, M. (2000). They Listen to Me… But They Don’t Act On It: Contradictory Consciousness in Decision-Making. High School Journal, (84)2, 21-35.


  Keating, I. (1995, September). Let your school board be a lesson. American School Board Journal. 41-43.


  Kozol, J. (1991). Savage Inequities. New York: Crown Publishers.


  Lesko, W. and Tsouronis, E. (1998). Youth! The 26% Solution. Kensington, MD: Information USA, Inc.


  Loesch-Griffin, D., Petrides, L., and Pratt, C. (1995). A Comprehensive Study of Project YES – Rethinking Classrooms and Communities: Service-Learning as Educational Reform. San Francisco: East Bay Conservation Corps.


  Marques, E. (1999). Youth Involvement in Policy-Making:  Lessons from Ontario School Boards, Institute on Governance, Policy Brief (5).  Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  McCall, D. (2000).  Selected Case Studies of Youth Involvement in Public Decision Making.  Centre on Community and School Health, Canadian Association for School Health for the Division of Childhood and Adolescence, Health Canada.  Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  Newmann, F. (1992). Student Engagement and Achievement in American Secondary Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.


  Onore, Cynthia S. and Cook, Jon (1992). Negotiating the Curriculum: Educating for the 21st Century. London: Falmer Press.


  Patmor, George L. (1998). Student and school council member views of student involvement in decision-making in kentucky high schools.  Doctoral dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.


  Scriven, M. (1995). Student Ratings Offer Useful Input to Teacher Evaluations. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED398240).


  Shultz, J. and Cook-Sather, A. (eds). (2001). In our own words: Students' perspectives on school. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.


  Sparapani, E. (2000). The Effect of Teaching for Higher-Level Thinking: An analysis of teacher reactions. Education, (121)1, 80-89.


  Wade, R. & Putnam, K. (1995). Tomorrow’s Leaders?  Gifted Students’ Opinions of Leadership and Service Activities. Roeper Review, 18(2), 150-152.


  Washington Roundtable. (1987) Now for the Good News: Profiles of Ten Successful Washington School Districts. Seattle: Author.


  Weiler, D., LaGoy, A., Crane, E., and Rovner, A. (1998). An Evaluation of K-12 Service-Learning in California: Phase II Final Report. Emeryville, CA: RPP International with the Search Institute.  Retrieved September 18, 2002 from


  Wilson, B. and Corbett, H. D. (2001). Listening to Urban Kids: School Reform and the Teachers They Want.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


  Yair, G. (2000). Reforming Motivation: How the Structure of Instruction Affects Students’ Learning Experiences. British Educational Journal, 26(2), 191-120.


  Zeldin, S., Kusgen-McDaniel, A., Topitzes, D. and Calvert, M. (2000) Youth in Decision-Making: A Study on the Impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations, University of Wisconsin - Madison: National 4-H Council, University of Wisconsin Extension. 


  Zelding, S. and Price, L. (1995) Creating Supportive Communities for Adolescent Development: Challenges to Scholars. Journal of Adolescent Research,10, 6-15.




About SoundOut


SoundOut has worked in more than 100 K-12 schools and districts across the United States and around the world. Learn more about us, and for more information contact us.















SEARCH SOUNDOUT Enter search term

Powered by Google

STUDENT VOICE NEWS Enter email address

Powered by RiseUp


All original material on this website is copyright © 2011 SoundOut. All rights reserved.

For more information write to SoundOut, PO Box 6185, Olympia, Washington 98507 or email