RELEASE: New CAP Column Recommends Five Ways To Include Student Voice in Education Policymaking

Washington, D.C. — As schools continue to navigate the end of the school year and policymakers look to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and reimagine and rebuild education, it is vital that student voices—especially those from underserved and historically disadvantaged backgrounds—are not just listened to but also actively sought and included in solutions. This is the main conclusion of a new column published today by the Center for American Progress.

K-12 students have been missing in critical conversations on how best to provide remote education, how and when to reopen schools, and how to address the vast inequities exposed by the pandemic. To hear directly from students, in late 2020, the Center for American Progress partnered with the student-led nonprofit organization Student Voice to conduct a community conversation with high schoolers from across the country on how they would like to be included in decision-making.

Key recommendations on how to incorporate student voice at the school, district, and state level include:

  • Include a voting student member on district school boards and state boards of education: District school boards and state boards of education should appoint at least one student member with full voting power to serve as a representative.
  • Create student advisory groups to inform district and state leaders: These groups should be demographically diverse and reflective of the district or state they are representing.
  • Empower student government groups with real authority: Schools should elevate their student governments and imbue them with meaningful responsibilities, such as advising school leadership on critical issues, surveying the student body to provide insight on potential school improvements and school culture, and leading initiatives to increase student engagement and participation.

Key recommendations on how to incorporate student voice at the federal level include:

  • Create a youth liaison position at the U.S. Department of Education: The youth liaison’s responsibilities would include ensuring that the department is engaging students in its policy development and implementation, elevating student voice in public communications, and developing and maintaining relationships with students and student-led organizations.
  • Include students in U.S. Department of Education commissions, working groups, and stakeholder meetings: The Department of Education should actively solicit input from students from diverse backgrounds by including student representatives in every commission, working group, and stakeholder meeting.

“Students must be empowered in formal and informal ways to have influence in their own education, which will not only benefit themselves but also the education system as a whole,” said Megan Ferren, research assistant for K-12 Education at CAP and author of the column. “Policymakers cannot praise youth activism and organizing in a political context but block them from having similar influence in their own communities. Incorporating student voice—from students of all backgrounds—is an important step in ensuring that all students have self-determination in their own education and access to a quality education.”

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