The Role of Intermediary Organizations in Sustaining Student Voice Initiatives
by Dana L. Mitra — 2009
Background/Context: The sustainability of change efforts continues to be an important and challenging question in educational research.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: By examining 13 programs aimed at increasing student voice in school reform, this article examines conditions that enable and constrain the sustainability of this challenging form of educational change.
Population/Participants/Subjects: The 13 high schools in this study all received grant funding from a local foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area to work on building a student voice initiative in their school. All the grant recipients and their schools in the sample were situated within an urban environment, either within an inner city or a bedroom community in the Bay Area that possessed urban characteristics of the region. These characteristics include an ethnically diverse population comprising students of Asian, Latin, African, and European descent, insufficiently funded public schools, and high concentrations of poverty.
Intervention/Program/Practice: When placed into practice, student voice initiatives provide youth with opportunities to participate in school decision-making that will shape their lives and the lives of their peers. Student voice can range from the most basic level of youth sharing their opinions of problems and potential solutions, to allowing young people to collaborate with adults to address the problems in their schools, to youth taking the lead on seeking change.
Research Design: This study consists of a multiple case study designed for the purpose of explanation building.
Data Collection and Analysis: Semistructured telephone interviews served as the primary data source for this article. Observations, documents, and external evaluations served as validity checks and sources of triangulation for this study.
Findings/Results: The data indicate that the persistence of a student-voice effort after the initial influx of funds and support disappeared requires support from an intermediary organization (IO)—an organization located outside the auspices of school walls. IOs can help with fostering a clear and long-term vision, providing a more stable source of leadership, identifying ongoing financial and collaborative resources, and building a network for knowledge generation and sharing.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Although they are a part of many reform initiatives, partnerships with IOs are usually considered to be short-term relationships during the implementation phase of an initiative. This research instead suggests that IOs might be better suited as long-term partners in many change efforts. An awareness of the important roles that IOs can play in the long-term work toward change could help researchers, practitioners, and policy makers think more intentionally about how to plan for stabilizing such partnerships as an avenue toward sustaining reform initiatives.
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