What's Missing from the Education Reform Conversation? Student Voices

The lack of student voice in current education policy is like a detective conducting an investigation without interviewing victims.

At the conclusion of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed, "we gave our students a seat at the table." Throughout the strike, the CTU also claimed to be standing up for children. Yet as students missed days of valuable learning time, they had no voice or a seat at the table and they still don't.

Students, we are being used.

I have no doubt that both parties want to do what they believe is best for students because there is a good chance that what is best for students is best for them. Regardless, the rhetoric seems to favor political gain over student achievement.

I like to compare the lack of student voice in education policy to a detective conducting a criminal investigation without interviewing the victims. Not only is it unprofessional, it's unjust.

The president and CEO of Youth Service America, Steven Culbertson recently wrote, "If we want more people to vote when they turn 18, we must engage them before they turn 18." Evidently, society's inability to call upon the student voice does not only negatively impact America's education, it establishes a culture of apathy.

Fewer than 20 states call upon the student voice in education policy and only a fraction of that total provides students with voting power. Furthermore, only 400 local youth councils exist across America—a nation of some 80,000 municipalities. That equates to only .5 percent of America’s municipalities valuing the student voice. We, the students, are a part of America's present and will play an even bigger role in its future.

"Students know what’s working and not working [in the education system] before anyone else," says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. So, Mr. Secretary, why are we not a part of the policymaking process? I know that you visit and speak with students across the country, but we should be regarded as more than victims with stories to share. We should be respected as capable advisors and decision makers.

President Obama, Governor Romney, and all other policymakers need to recognize that supporting the students is a nonpartisan issue. The claim that you are putting students first without even valuing their input is ludicrous. Just because we're young does not mean that we're ignorant.

Educators and parents have to understand that we need you to believe in us and work with us to enhance and empower the student voice. We cannot and should not do this alone. We know you care for us—show us that you trust us.

If you're not a politician, policymaker, educator or parent, stop assuming that you know what's best for students without hearing student's voices first.

I respect my policymakers. I love my teachers. I thank my parents for representing me the best they can. But the reality is that no one knows us better than ourselves. Education starts and ends with the students. Education policy should do the same.

Young man shouting through megaphone photo via Shutterstock


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