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Education in the Media, Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings, Student Voices

The Importance of Student Voice : a response to Diane Ravitch

"Student voice is now being invited to evaluate teachers, but I think that's very bad idea. 
One more way to intimidate educators. #soschat"  @DianeRavitch (5:57 PM - 19 Jun 12)

In public education voice is something that is tolerated with a sense of intolerance…meaning it is something that is lauded only for preaching the common message. When that voice becomes independent and free from the common, it then becomes a whistle-blower, a troublemaker.

Sometime some might even go as far as to say that the collective voice has become an insubordinate headache and must become subject to public denouncement, censorship, and discipline. This is common in the world of public education when the voices of educators and students become louder than mumbles.

However, in the world of public education the voice is something that should always be both feared and equally respected because it can shed light on things that  previously had no light shed on them. For this reason the voice has become something that has been demanded for and fought for and consequently should never be vilified. The voice itself is the sole perpetrator behind numerous amounts of edu-movements that  brought a sense of social justice to a system that just generations before lacked it in every sense possible. The voice can be and is the most powerful thing within a minority of the educational system that has had their right to express and identify minimized or taken away. Voice is the sole weapon left for the underdogs to create a sense of being and unity in a system where neither are present that works to draw those with shared frustrations together. Voice is the predominant force behind a fight for equity and equality in a system where neither is valued and to have such opportunity to have voice being on the forefront threatened is nothing short of an attack on the societal and constitutional rights of students across the country.

One would think that an educator or an avid supporter of public unionized educators would understand the importance of voice. One would think that the importance of inclusion within discussion, the importance to have an opportunity to have the collective voice be heard without risk of censorship, without intimidation, and without risk of retaliation would be something that is valued. One would think of all people an educator would understand such importance of voice due to the struggle that educators themselves find themselves in. However, there are educators and avid supporters of public educators out there who fail to understand such pivotal importance of the student voice. There are educators out there who think that students should be without a voice that has value in a discussion that has been for too long dictated by the majority.

Nevertheless, we as students and as young adults in a system that works in tireless resistance to hear our voices, our screams, and our pleas for socially just education must not let our voice remain endangered. Even when such opposition to our voice and such public denouncement of the importance of student voice exists, we must work effortlessly to ensure that we remain central to the goal of reinventing, revolutionizing, and preserving the promise of equal and equitable public education. While those who wish to make their voices heard might not want to gain enemies we must not stand by in silence as educators have done for far too long and let our voice become censored and denounced by those who wish to hear one side of the discussion.


5 thoughts on “The Importance of Student Voice : a response to Diane Ravitch

  1. I’m not sure how Mr. Chisley sees his post as an answer to Diane Ravitch, who is never mentioned in the text of the piece itself. I’m also unclear how he believes Ravitch or any progressive educator has tried to silence, censor, denounce, or intimidate students. Indeed, it would be impossible for her to silence or censor him or any student.

    Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Mr. Chisely is a student and “education activist” at Ohio Virtual Academy, one of many such on-line schools that were covered in a NY TIMES article in less than glowing terms. And Diane Ravitch has written critically about on-line education. But that’s not quite the same as the things about which Mr. Chisley complains.

    I’m well aware from direct personal experience with a variety of charter schools in Michigan managed by for-profit companies that there are good and bad charters out there. I’ve seen how on-line learning can be beneficial for some students but disastrous and essentially worthless for others. Much depends on the student, but that doesn’t stop many charters, including those that are grounded in on-line curricula, from “selling” their program to as many kids as possible. In the world of for-profit schooling, getting the fannies in the seats long enough to collect public money is the name of the game. With high turnover of kids (and often a revolving door for teachers), minimizing expenses and maximizing income is the way to ensure a huge profit margin.

    Governments (federal and state) have an obligation to make sure that these schools, which are under far less scrutiny than traditional brick and mortar public institutions, are delivering quality education, not simply concentrating on their bottom line. I suspect that Mr. Chisley misses that point in his attempt to make it sound like critics of these places are trying to “silence” student voices, a notion I find to be an enormous stretch of logic. But the “choice” mantra is a central part of the for-profit educational marketing and political strategy. So it is unsurprising that an “education activist” at such schools might be motivated to contribute to the growing propaganda that emerges from this movement.

    Posted by Michael Paul Goldenberg | June 27, 2012, 2:10 pm
  2. Attacking or using my option to public school as leverage in a underhanded attempt to question my objectives or ideology regarding public school is really short sighted on your behalf. Yes, I attend a public online charter thats AFFILIATED (note, thats affiliated, not operated) by a private company but that does not mean that I share the same corporatist ideology.

    In my post I was pointing out the fact that the student voice is always invited and called upon when both sides of the movement (anti-GERM and pro-GERM) need insight from the ones being most effected but as soon as that voice threatens principles or the “system of things” it becomes problematic.My post has nothing to do with the high turn over rate of charters nor does it try to create a dialog for such conversation.

    But since you want to turn the boat in this direction…I have a question I have been dying to ask someone who would humor me with a good response. If the first generation public school system works so “effectively” and has no malfunction then why are there charters in both big and small districts with multi-year waiting lists? and secondly, isn’t it the objective of the districts and the magnet schools (who also pull money away from those local community schools) under the first generation system to keep students enrolled as long as possible for the purpose of being granted state, federal, and local operating dollars? Or are we not going to pretend that the first generation system has no corporatist agenda too?

    Posted by Jabreel Chisley | June 29, 2012, 7:12 pm
  3. Jabreel,

    I am glad this is back up, and I fully support your expression of outrage and dismay. The Ed System
    does indeed have structural defects — it is clear it does not work for everyone. I think the system’s design flaws are purposefully maintained in order to assure social stratification remains firmly in place — but then, I may simply have a bad attitude.

    I would invite Mr. Goldenberg to return to peruse the various posts here at the Coöp since, from my visits to his blog site, it would appear he has far more in common with you and others here than his response to your post suggests.


    Posted by Brent Snavely | June 30, 2012, 9:24 am
  4. Interesting post. I agree wholeheartedly that student voices need to be heard and it should be systemic and sustained. My questions regarding Dr. Ravitch’s tweet about a specific teacher evaluation scheme are these:

    1. If students are asked to evaluate teachers as part of the process of determining job security and teacher pay what mechanisms are there to deal with the students who, say, are angry that they received a failing grade for not completing their assignments or, perhaps, they chose to be absent for much of a course and failed it and, therefore, rate the teacher as “ineffective” out of retribution?

    2. If students do not like attending school, see no value in learning something like Algebra or Chemistry and, therefore, rate a teacher as “ineffective” is that something the teacher should be held accountable for creating and should that teacher be held in risk of losing his/her job or pay?

    3. What happens when some students are disruptive or simply make bad choices in school and have to suffer the consequences and then decide to rate a teacher as “ineffective” because the teacher held them accountable? Will this discourage teachers from dealing with disruption and antisocial behavior out of fear of retribution during the high-stakes student evaluations?

    4. Dr. Ravitch speaks of a very specific proposal to add “student evaluation” to an already complex, high-stakes, risky, and unproven VAM system that has been shown repeatedly to be unreliable and dubious in effectiveness and that promises to destroy the careers and livelihoods of tens of thousands of public school teachers. What alternative ways can we come up with to add student voices to the teacher evaluation process that will guarantee fairness, validity, due process, and equity as opposed to simply asking students to “rate” their teacher’s effectiveness without condition? How can we ensure that the student voice is valued, honored, protected, and allowed to flourish while simultaneously ensuring that teachers do not become scapegoats of the process?

    This is an important discussion that needs to expand. Thanks for your perspective.

    Posted by Brian | July 2, 2012, 11:00 am


  1. Pingback: Junk science in education: Testing doesn’t work, can’t evaluate teachers « Millard Fillmore's Bathtub - July 29, 2012

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