Growing student voice in U. S. policymaking processes

Year: 2019

Author: Mitra, Dana

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research paper examines the growing presence of student voice at the state policy level in the United States. Since the United States is the only nation in the world to not sign the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, student participation is not required by state and federal law, and in face student voice is often banned. It is illegal in many states for voting members of decision making boards to be younger than 18.This paper examines the fledgling efforts to legitimize student voice at the state levels. It considers the implications of growing student voice not only for the United States but also for nations with more established voice efforts at the provincial level, such as Australia.

The study asks: How does state/provincial-level student voice align or contradict student voice frameworks?

Theoretical Framework

The paper examines the extent to which examples of state-level student voice align with these three levels of Mitra’s (2007) typology of student voice:

1)Listening is most common level of student voice work is listening to young people. The importance of learning from student voices stems from the belief that students themselves are often neglected sources of useful data. Listening to students can be problematic, however, since adults often misinterpreting the student perspective in their analyses.

2) Collaborationoccurs when adults and youth working together to share in the planning and decision making in their endeavors. The adults tend to initiate the relationship and ultimately bear responsibility and the final say on group activities and decisions.

3) Leadershipfocuses on whenstudents assume most of the decision making authority, andadults provide assistance. Such efforts are often easier to achieve outside of the auspices of the school.

The study consists of data collection and interviews with young people and adults in all four locations in the United States—Oregon, Kentucky Iowa, and Vermont. Data collection consisted of semi-structured telephone and in-person interviews conducted with a minimum of ten and a maximum of twenty two individuals participating in each of the four state-level student voice efforts.

The findings of the study show that most uncommon form of student voice efforts in school systems—youth-driven leadership—is actually the most common model for state-level student voice. The study suggests that opportunities for youth-led change might be greater at broader levels of the policy system.