There are a lot of well-intentioned grown-ups wringing their hands over the state of education in the United States. They are appropriately worried about things like overall funding levels for schools and whether the standards on which those schools are judged accurately reflect their performance. But when it comes to more qualitative issues like a school's social climate, sometimes it makes sense to go beyond the adult conversation and ask the kids themselves. That's the idea behind a campaign launched last week by the National School Boards Association to solicit input from students about bullying or other types of harassment. One-third of students between the ages of 12 and 18 report being bullied at school. For most, the harassment is verbal in the form of ridicule or being the subject of rumors, according to NSBA.
The NSBA's project goes a step beyond the Obama administration by facilitating face-to-face meetings between students and school board members. (The Education Department has awarded $38.8 million to states to measure school safety and intervene in schools with the greatest need.) The NSBA is encouraging school board members to meet with groups of six to 10 students and ask them blunt questions like, "Do you feel safe at school?" and "Do you feel respected by teachers and staff?" The conversations will be confidential, but students will be invited to share their thoughts from those meetings with the school board and the broader association. "I don't believe we can solve it without the students," said NSBA President Mary Broderick.
What can students bring to the dialogue about improving a school's climate? What can the grown-ups (teachers, principals, and policymakers) do with the students' information? How can educators show participating students that they are listening and acting on their information and suggestions? Are there ways to measure school climate using quantitative statistics?