Including Students in School Reform

By Mary Rubadeau

Past decade have done little to improve the quality of education for our students. Despite public pressure for improving student achievement, our national debate on school improvement seems even further galvanized and polarized among conflicting special interest groups.

Each year, we rush to implement yet another round of new programs and strategies designed to improve achievement scores on standardized tests. Unfortunately, we are poised to repeat our mistakes unless a key group -- perhaps the most important group -- is invited to the table: our students.

This belief is based on my experience as a superintendent and as an education consultant. If we try to improve schools without taking students’ opinions and preferences into account in our discussions and debates, we will come up with off-target and even counterproductive strategies. To improve teaching and learning, we need to ask the right questions from the right people. Knowing the critical skills that our future citizens, leaders, and entrepreneurs need to be successful will in turn help us reinvent our schools.

Bringing students’ voices to the reform table has become all the more imperative in the past decade, as technology has rapidly changed how students prefer to learn. Their young minds are hyperconnected to their peers, mentors, information resources, and the global community through pocket-sized, lightning-fast devices. They learn through information immersion, relationship development, and collaboration. The generation in our classrooms right now wants to be full partners in developing the teaching and learning ground rules, new tools, and assessments necessary for their future success.

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