When policymakers convene to discuss education issues, they often omit one of the most obvious stakeholders: the students who will be impacted by those decisions.
To bring youth into these conversations, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence created the Student Voice Team to give middle and high school students a greater role in education policy. Renee Shaw recently spoke with four team members on KET’s Connections.
The team is comprised of students from across the commonwealth who volunteer for activities as their time and interest allows, according to Gabrielle Price, a senior at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School in Lexington. The team studies a range of topics related to education, including the Common Core Standards, superintendent selection, and issues relating to the transition from high school to college.
“The mission for the team is basically to amplify the student voices and representation through civic engagement on both the state and local level,” Price said. She says students may testify at public meetings or legislative hearings, organize social media campaigns, and write newspaper opinion pieces about their findings.
Issues in the Classroom and Beyond
Fellow Dunbar High School senior Sahil Nair says his classmates often come to him with concerns about issues relating to their education. For example, he says students don’t believe in the value of the current testing system and are eager to see reforms in the assessment process.
Nair also says teaching techniques should be updated to better address the needs of students. He points to Lexington’s STEAM Academy, a collaboration between the Fayette County Public Schools and the University of Kentucky, that uses innovative approaches to teaching science, technology, math, and arts courses.
But the Student Voice Team extends beyond what happens in the classroom. Nair is leading an effort to change the law for hiring county school superintendents so that students are represented in the selection process.
“The Student Voice Team has been meeting extensively with legislators, policymakers, lobbyists,” Nair said, “and we’re looking to align ourselves with the priorities of this legislative session so we can really make some headway on this law.”
Potential Benefits of Charter Schools
Another issue under study by the team is charter schools. Gentry Fitch, a senior at West Jessamine High School in Nicholasville, says he understands why the topic is so politically charged since the creation of charter schools could change how public education funds are allocated. But he says his research into charters indicates they can be useful in helping to close achievement gaps among urban and minority students.
Fitch points to the success of charter-school techniques that are already used in the Danville and Eminence city systems as well as in the so-called District of Innovation schools.
“Those can shine a definite positive light on what charter schools can do for Kentucky,” Fitch said. “These kids with these charter-like strategies are doing very big things in these schools.”
Curricula and Teaching Standards
The Student Voice Team is also exploring the sticky issues around the Common Core Standards. In 2010 Kentucky became the first state to adopt the standards for English and language arts as well as mathematics. Several states that adopted the standards have sought to repeal them over concerns about content and implementation of the benchmarks.
Meghana Kudrimoti, a senior at Lexington’s Dunbar High School, chairs the Student Voice Team’s Core Standards Committee. She applauds how Common Core is designed to standardize what students around the state learn, and how those standards are set to international benchmarks.
“So not only are the students inside Kentucky learning the same things, but the students in Kentucky are learning the same things that a student in Singapore is learning, or a student in India is learning,” Kudrimoti says.
But as state education officials consider revisions to the standards, Kudrimoti advocates for students to be part of those discussions.