The Student Voice

Gabriel, my preschool-aged son, just brought home his very first piece of art in which you can actually tell what he was trying to draw. A gun. Barrel, trigger, grip – yep, definitely a gun. My wife showed it to me after he had gone to bed, wondering whether we should be worried. I asked her, “What did Gabriel say when you asked him why he drew it?” “Ooh,” she replied, “I didn’t think to ask him.” So today, I want to focus on the topic of the student voice.

The Good: Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching Project Finds Student Opinion Matters to Effective Teaching
The Gates Foundation is partnering with top education experts and researchers to figure out what makes for an effective teacher. After studying thousands of lessons, instituting additional in-class tests, and speaking with students in seven large school districts around the country, the project just released four major preliminary findings. First and foremost? Students know good teaching when they see it. Additionally, student opinions on how organized and effective a teacher is matter. So take note, educators. If you want to understand and improve teacher effectiveness, don’t forget to ask the kids themselves.

The Bad: Student to School Counselor Ratio in the US? 457-to-1.
The American School Counselor Association tracks student/school counselor ratios in public schools across the country and by state. While the organization suggests a 250-to-1 ratio, the national 2008-2009 ratio stood at 457-to-1. Only five states (New Hampshire, Wyoming, Vermont, Mississippi, and Louisiana) had ratios lower than the recommended level. In my home state of California, the ratio was 814-to-1 – the worst in the nation. As education budgets have shrunk across the country, guidance counselor positions have been drastically reduced. These counselors play a critical role in helping students access and prepare for college, resolve academic and personal problems, and succeed in school. If we want our young people to achieve, we need to reverse this trend and find a way to increase the number of counselors. After all, how can we hear student voices if there is no one there to listen to them?

The Bold: Michelle Rhee Launches StudentsFirst with Plans to Raise $1B in First Year
Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, recently announced that she’s launching StudentsFirst, an organization with a mission to build a national education reform movement. Rhee’s new organization boldly plans to raise $1 billion and attract 1 million members. Why? To bring pressure to bear on policy makers, ensuring that students have access to high quality teachers and great schools, that school systems are efficient, and that parents and communities are engaged in education. As part of that effort, StudentsFirst will be encouraging students to become members, share their stories, and advocate for the changes they want to see in education. Given Rhee’s history in D.C., we have no doubt that StudentsFirst will be effective at pressuring elected officials and policy makers on behalf of children. At the same time, parent and community engagement, which was an Achilles heel for Rhee in D.C., will be a critical success factor for StudentsFirst. So can Rhee succeed with StudentsFirst where she failed with DCPS? We hope so, because if Rhee can incorporate the voices of students, parents, and communities, she can create a grassroots movement that will carry significant weight in shaping education policy.

So now back to my son, Gabriel. The next morning, I showed him the picture of the gun, praising him on the accuracy of the drawing. I asked him why he drew it, and he said, “Dad, it’s not a real gun. It’s just pretend. It doesn’t shoot bullets.” As he ran off, I reflected on how glad I was that I had asked him (and even more importantly, that he hadn’t said “Because the voices told me to…”).

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