Here's How ESSA Is Giving Students a Voice in Their Education

Jul 5, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by A.J. Spitz

Administrators are quick to tell us how good their schools are but if we really want to know about their quality, we should ask the real experts: students. When I was in public school, I can remember sitting in Mr. Howe’s mechanics class wondering, “Why am I here?” Vocational classes used to be optional. I can remember thinking, “How do these people who make policy know what is best for me? Why can't I just tell them?” Looking back, it would have been useful if I could have told them my thoughts. I think it could have helped my school. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) introduced critical civil rights protections to enhance equity for historically underserved students by including all students in decisions related to school support and improvement. But this doesn’t mean students have an actual say. This means that if they would like to voice their thoughts, they can. ESSA allows students to help make their schools more productive in making policy changes. And if we’re serious about improving schools for kids, then kids should be part of that process. Some student voices are inspirational and thought provoking. In a letter by Detroit high school sophomore  Imani Harris, she criticizes how the Michigan Senate watered down bills that were intended to alleviate debt and restructure Detroit Public Schools.
This would NEVER happen at a school in Bloomfield Hills. Is it because we’re black? Or maybe because you think we’re poor? Oh no, I’ve got it—it’s because we’re just poor black kids from Detroit who don’t have a future anyways. Why promise us anything when we probably won’t live past 18, right? Let’s give them some sick bill that we know they won’t read, so they’ll stop fussing and go back to school right? WRONG! I know my rights, and I know that the color of my skin does NOT give anyone the right to give me any different of an education than a white girl would get.
I wonder what politicians would think if they read Imani’s letter. Would they even care? The people who would care are those from communities like Imani’s. If families and students organized themselves around issues raised in Imani’s letter, then politicians could not ignore them. There are so many others like Imani.

Giving Power Back to Students

More policies should solicit feedback from students, whose lives are affected most by them. Letters like Imani’s and organizations such as Student Voice give power back to those who stand to gain and lose the most from changes to schools. Student Voice is a platform for students who face issues ranging from bullying, getting into college, budget cuts, and more. Over the next year, Student Voice will embark on a national tour to connect, support, and highlight actions being taken by students all across the country to improve their education. Student Voice will shadow the 2016 presidential campaign, engage 10,000 students through its Bill of Rights, and enable students from across the country to speak out on what is and isn’t working in their schools.

Let's Ask Students

I remember walking past the principal's office, looking through the glass window, and seeing only teachers and administrators. No student was ever in sight. Every time I walked past that shielded glass door, I couldn't help but wonder why students were never allowed in there. Why couldn't we say a single word on how their decisions affected our future? ESSA allows students a chance to share their opinions on policies; we are finally being given a nationwide opportunity to create a new vision for what schools that work for us look like. When we think about a school’s success, we should ask, “who can tell us the most honest feedback?” We should ask, “who is our most influential and important resource?” Let’s ask students.

A.J. Spitz

A.J. Spitz is a junior at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and summer intern for Education Post.

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