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Education Reform? Student Activists Are Doing It Themselves

While debates about education policy rage on in Washington, D.C. many students are taking matters into their own hands.

The people making education policy are used to asking parents, teachers, and community members for input. But what about the opinion of the people these decisions impact most, students? Well, increasingly, this generation of students isn't waiting to be asked what they think.

Some of the most notable examples of student activism come from the Bay Area in California. The San Jose Mercury News reports that eighth-graders at East San Jose's Renaissance Academy recently took on the lack of technology resources available at their school and created a "project to lobby, research and secure money" for their campus. They were willing to demand change even though improved, up-to-date technology, like iPads and working laptops, won't arrive till they've moved on to high school.

In neighboring San Jose, 13-year-old College Connection Academy middle-schooler Marco Cabrera created a Facebook page to lobby against the pink slips given out to teachers at his school. He even began emailing his district's superintendent, John Porter, and, with a group of classmates, explained how the "teachers are like family." Ultimately retirements in the district led to two of the three College Connection teachers being able to keep their jobs, but it is still noteworthy that a teenager felt empowered enough to take on a large education bureaucracy, and that the superintendent actually listened.

And, although no one asked them what they thought, high-schoolers further north in Palo Alto presented student survey results at a local school board meeting. Their results showed that students favored an earlier start to the school year and final exams to before winter break—which was the opposite of the school calendar most teachers and parents wanted. The school board ended up siding with the students.

These examples paint a picture of students that are certainly a far cry from the stereotype of the next generation as self-centered kids who spend all their time texting each other. Why don't education reformers do more to find out student opinions and take them into consideration?

Too frequently adults assume that students don't have the sophistication to contribute to discussions about whether, for example, teachers should keep their jobs based on seniority, or student test scores should be used to evaluate them—or whether the start of the school year should be moved from September to August. However, it's clear that there's an increased student consciousness about education issues, and they want to get involved—and when they do, they have good ideas. Maybe acknowledging the role students can play as agents of change in their own school communities is a change the education reformers should make.

photo (cc) via Flickr user America Redefined

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