A Single Voice in the Crowd: A Case Study of One Student’s Determination to Challenge Top Down School Reform
by Barbara L. Pazey, Heather Cole & Daniel Spikes — 2017
Background: Set against the backdrop of accountability reform and the dire consequences imposed upon “failing” schools, this study focuses on the advocacy of one student leader determined to resist the political direction to close his school. While a few studies have documented student voice in reform resistance, none have documented the voice of a student with a dis/ability.
Objective: Using a theoretical framework that weaves together self-determination theory and resiliency theory, the study seeks to understand the motivation and the conditions for that motivation driving a student to take action and the potential role of young people in current educational reform.
Setting: The study takes place in a large, urban city in central Texas. The high school slated for closure is in a poor, minority neighborhood and has been the subject of various reform efforts over the last two decades.
Population: As a single case study, the sole subject is EJ, a young black male with a dis/ability. EJ is the president of his student body and a leader in the reform resistance for his school.
Research Design: This case study is qualitative and uses narrative inquiry to document the story of EJ over a two-year period, following his initial involvement in reform resistance at his school to his key role as student body president during a volatile year of reform decisions by his school district.
Data Collection and Analysis: The study relies on data collected as part of a larger study examining the impact of school turnaround efforts on students with dis/abilities. Centering on the personal accounts of EJ and his own description of what occurred at his school and his leadership role, his narrative in analyzed through the theoretical lens of self-determination and resiliency theory. Data from the larger study is used to triangulate EJ’s account.
Findings: The study finds that students, and particularly students historically marginalized in school settings, can be extremely effective voices for change.
Conclusions: The paper concludes with implications for accountability reform and a discussion of the potential of expanding approaches of student engagement in reform efforts to include student voice, particularly, the voices of students with dis/abilities.
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