Purpose: K-12 education systems are expected to prepare students to participate in society, but education leaders often neglect to ask students how policy decisions affect their learning. Educators have begun to incorporate student voice into classroom, school, and district decision making. However, students are still a largely untapped resource in statewide K-12 education policy change. One reason may be that there is no clear understanding of how students may participate. The purpose of this study is to examine how students, through student voice efforts, collectively participate in and influence the policy-making process for state-level K-12 education decision making. Research Methods/Approach: This study employs a qualitative case study and utilizes document analysis, observations, and interviews with students and adults participating in two statewide student voice efforts. Findings: Students are able to participate in and advocate for policy reform adoption in the K-12 education policy process. Statewide student voice efforts are generally structured to include the following components: (a) power shifts, (b) shared practices, (c) adult supports, and (d) student relationships. Within these structures, students participate in the policy making process by (a) identifying a problem and policy solution, (b) assessing social, political, and economic capital available to move a policy forward, (c) building a coalition for support and to gain access to additional resources, and (d) engage in grassroots and grasstops advocacy. Students utilize their status to gain power in the grassroots arena; however, this status also decreases their power in the grasstops arena. Conclusions and Implications: This study reveals the importance of providing a structured space for students to access support from their peers as well as adults when engaging in student voice efforts. It also demonstrates the importance of shifting different aspects of power within student voice efforts, particularly social order power dynamics, to ensure that student voice efforts do not become homogeneous and representative of a particular student voice. Finally, it shows the ways in which students harness their own power and access the power of others in order to engage in the policy process.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2019. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Nicola Alexander. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 338 pages.
Student Voice in Education Policy: Understanding student participation in state-level K-12 education policy making.
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