Review: “What Works in Education Reform: Putting Young People at the Center”

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Review by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

“What Works in Education Reform: Putting Young People at the Center” by J. Tolman, P. Ford, and M. Irby. Published in 2003 in Baltimore, Maryland by International Youth Foundation.

What Works is a comprehensive guide to student inclusive school change that offers a variety of international case studies, tools, and resources for promoting “youth-centered” school reform.

This guide was created by the International Youth Foundation with the goal of fostering connectivity between current school reform beliefs and practices with the growing field of youth development. What Works provides a summary of current education reforms taking place around the world, including programs in Germany, Mexico and the Philippines.

The key elements of the studies included how youth-centered school reform was happening in schools; when and where the reforms took place, and; whom they affected. In the introduction the authors propose that putting young people at the center of education reform adds a necessary efficacy to school reform.

Four main research questions are used throughout What Works to explore youth-centered education reform:

  • What is it? What are our hopes for young people and what are their goals? Readiness for work, citizenship, family, and lifelong learning are historic goals. Competence, confidence, character, connections and contribution are new goals.
  • How does it happen? Through shifts in the practice of education, including safe, supportive and engaging environments; and changes in instruction and pedagogy.
  • Where and when? High quality learning experiences happen in multiple settings, including where young people live, work, play, and contribute, as well as the school.
  • Who? Students, teachers, administrators, families and community members take new roles in youth-centered education reform.

The authors then share a series of case studies that seek to connect the components above by detailing how youth-centered education reform is happening around the world in a variety of settings. Youth-centered education reform is thoroughly explored in a variety of chapters.

One exciting chapter is called, “New Roles for Youth: Youth Engagement and Education Reform.” The authors examine the ways that the actions, voices and contributions of students can and do bring about educational change. They detail the necessity of student engagement in successful schools by proposing that, ”when youth engagement is made a central principle of pedagogy – by building choice, voice, active roles, and opportunities to contribute – the quality of learning improves.”

This important publication substantiates the efficacy of student inclusive school change by offering a global perspective absent in many publications. This is an important contribution to the growing collection of literature supporting meaningful student involvement.

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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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