SoundOut is an
expert assistance program focused on promoting
Student Voice and Meaningful Student Involvement
We work with K-12
schools, districts, state and provincial education
agencies, and nonprofit education organizations
across the United States and Canada.
Meaningful Student Involvement
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
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
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,
Evans, R. and Anthony, J. (1991 June).
Active Learning: Students and the School Budget Process. The Social
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
Golombek, Silvia ed. (2002). What Works
in Youth Participation: Case Studies from Around the World,
Baltimore: International Youth Foundation. Retrieved September 18, 2002
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
Zelding, S. and Price, L. (1995) Creating
Supportive Communities for Adolescent Development: Challenges to
Scholars. Journal of Adolescent Research,10, 6-15.
SoundOut has worked in more than 100 K-12 schools and districts
across the United States and around the world. Learn more
and for more information