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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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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 9, 2017, p. 1-37
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22038, Date Accessed: 12/17/2017 8:34:42 AM

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About the Author
  • Barbara Pazey
    University of North Texas
    E-mail Author
    BARBARA PAZEY, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor, Educational Leadership, in the Department of Teacher Education and Administration at the University of North Texas. She holds degrees in Music/Music Education and Educational Administration/Special Education Administration. Her research interests focus on administrator and teacher leadership preparation, ethical leadership, special education law and disability policy, and educational policy and reform. She embraces a research agenda that seeks to empower student voice, recognize and foster the growth of students’ 21st century skills, particularly for marginalized student populations.
  • Heather Cole
    Queens University
    E-mail Author
    HEATHER COLE, Ph.D., is an Associate Dean of Students at Queens University, Faculty of Law, in Kingston, Ontario. She earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Special Education, cross-listed with the Department of Educational Administration/Education Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. She holds graduate degrees in Law, Public Administration, and Education. She has worked in the public sector as a policy advisor and as a public interest and education attorney. Her research interests include educational policy and law, leadership, social justice, and the marginalization of students, particularly those with disabilities
  • Daniel Spikes
    Iowa State University
    E-mail Author
    DANIEL SPIKES is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Organizations, and Policy at Iowa State University. His research interests focus on racial disparities in education and the practices of school districts, schools, and school leaders that serve to perpetuate and/or ameliorate these disparities. Specifically, his research focuses on the following: school leadership, in general, with a specific focus on social justice and antiracist leadership; preservice and in-service training of educators on cultural proficiency and/or antiracism; urban education; social justice; and school tracking policies.
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