Students and educators in a SoundOut workshop in São Paulo, Brazil in 2014.
Students and educators in a SoundOut workshop in São Paulo, Brazil.

The question of dropping out and Meaningful Student Involvement is challenging. Research collected by a variety of researchers shows that students who leave school early often want to be meaningfully involved in schools. They frequently attribute dropping out to not feeling heard or engaged in their learning, by teachers or from education leadership.

Realities

Students face a variety of realities within schools. With large percentages of students graduating on-time, many educators lose focus on students who are likely to leave schools early. Sometimes, systematic discrimination and institutional racism conspire to pushout these students. This happens through harsh punishments, punitive grading and uncommitted student support. Educators trying to control students’ behavior through punishments take away student ownership of their own education, which affects every other part of their schooling and beyond into their out-of-school experiences, too. Instead of pushing out students and causing them to dropout, educators can empower students through Meaningful Student Involvement in order to foster student autonomy, increase their sense of competence, and building their capacity to be in community with others. Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse

Dropouts can also feed into the school-to-prison pipeline.  Its more important for schools to focus on what causes students to dropout than it is to focus on dropping out.

Challenges

There are challenges to using strategies for Meaningful Student Involvement to meet address dropping out. The dilemma is that a lot of research on student voice is qualitative. With student voice being embedded in a lot of methods, approaches and pedagogies, its effects haven’t been thoroughly analyzed for direct causation. The quantitative, data-driven, longitudinal outcomes of student voice simply haven’t been proven. Instead, its treated as having corollary effects on measurable challenges like dropping out. Research doesn’t really show that student voice directly impacts the dropout rate.

Opportunities

As more schools become committed to student voice, it becomes more important for educators to stay ethically grounded in their efforts. That means deliberately engaging students who aren’t normally engaged in class with dynamic, powerful strategies, and those include Meaningful Student Involvement. Researchers can continue their efforts to measure the significance of these approaches in a variety of ways, including establishing the causative effects of student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement.

In the meantime, educators, students, community partners and education leaders should keep innovating. More can, should, and must be done to engage all students in every school all of the time. By examining the behavior of students, as well as the perspectives of adults and adultism in schools, as well as using approaches like restorative justice in schools, student voice can transform schools for all students.

 

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Published by Adam Fletcher

Adam is the founding director of SoundOut. An author, speaker and consultant, he has worked with K-12 schools, districts, nonprofits and others for more than 15 years. Learn more about him at http://soundout.org/Adam

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