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Education Nation

Commentary: It Takes Engaged Students

Have you ever given business to a company that was seemingly not interested in your opinion of the quality of their products or services?

If so, that company is not likely to have stayed in business very long.

Just like customers of any business, students like to be engaged. After all, they are the customers of their own education. Roughly 77 million students are a part of the American education system, from pre-K through university degree programs, and that's primarily because we are told it is a necessary means to success. For the education system to help us reach our potential, we must have a voice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan admitted this at the beginning of his tenure: "Students know what's working and not working in schools before anyone else."

Yes! (This has become bulletin board material for me.)

Still, little has been done to act upon this understanding. Consequently, not all students are buying into the system, and the majority are not achieving as a result. With over 8,000 high school students dropping out of school each day and 75% of ACT test-takers proving to not be college and career ready, the American education system is failing us.

As troubling as these facts are, that is not all.

The Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations ("QISA") found that the higher the grade level, the less likely it is that students believe their own voices matter as part of the decision making in their educational experience. Only 44% of students, on average, believe they have a voice in their education, and this percentage dips to as low as 34% in the 12th grade.

In the same research, a similar inverse relationship can be seen when students are asked if school is preparing them well for their future. Again, the higher the grade level, the more concern is expressed by students over the lack of curiosity and creativity cultivated through their schooling. Sure, efforts to improve our fledgling system can focus on teacher quality, parent involvement, and universal pre-K, but a truly student-centered system must start with student engagement.

I am not making the case that students have all the answers to the aforementioned systemic issues. Nonetheless, no one should make the case that teachers, parents, or policymakers have all the answers either. We all have voices that matter and that should be properly represented in efforts to reform and revolutionize our education system.

Who better to engage in helping to fix a business' problems and make it successful than its disgruntled customers? Any business that doesn't is doomed to fail. The same can be said about our school system.

None of us wants that!