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Kahne, J., et al. Is responsiveness to student voice related to academic outcomes? Strengthening the rationale for student voice in school reform.

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Curator LEARN

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Curator LEARN

Article Summary

Category of Exploration: Access

Element: Self-advocation

Resource: Open access article  https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/719121

Title: Is responsiveness to student voice related to academic outcomes? Strengthening the rationale for student voice in school reform. American Journal of Education128(3), 389-415.

Year: 2022

Authors: Kahne, J., Bowyer, B., Marshall, J., & Hodgin, E. 

Lead Author: https://profiles.ucr.edu/app/home/profile/jkahne

Criteria: Accomplished scholars and researchers in civic education , student voice and related areas

Key Takeaway: Authentically responding to student voice supports citizenship and academic outcomes

Summation and Insights: 

This is an important quantitative study drawing on panel data from the Chicago Public Schools that looks at new perspectives on student voice. The authors emphasize that in addition to the opportunities for student voice, the responsiveness of adults to those voices is important.  They also break new ground with an examination of the relationship between responsiveness to student voice and academic outcomes.


The authors delve into the concept of student voice, which encompasses the various ways young people contribute to their education and school environment. It moves beyond mere listening to include responding and partnering with students, acknowledging their unique perspectives and affording them opportunities to actively shape their education. The article emphasizes the importance of responsiveness, where students' ideas are taken seriously by school staff, fostering a sense of agency among students.

The focus on responsiveness is particularly crucial in settings with a majority of students of color, such as Chicago, where youth often experience social and political marginalization and have fewer opportunities for meaningful voice in school. Marginalization can undermine students' motivation, sense of belonging, and academic achievement.

One challenge highlighted is the tendency for student voice initiatives to result in tokenism or shallow engagement, especially in schools with high percentages of marginalized groups. Meaningful responsiveness to student voice involves taking their critiques seriously, particularly those forwarded by marginalized youth, to avoid further alienation and negative consequences.

The authors include a clear and concise summary of the student voice literature which explores the foundational principles that underpin the advocacy for student voice in educational settings. Proponents argue that listening and responding to youth concerns are essential in democratic societies.  

Moreover, student voice and inclusion in school governance are seen as integral to effective civic education, fostering democratic commitments and capacities among students. Negative experiences and marginalization in schools can have detrimental effects on young people's long-term political development, highlighting the importance of responsiveness to student voice, especially for marginalized youth who are often underrepresented in decision-making processes.

 The authors also examine the challenges facing efforts to promote student voice in educational institutions, despite the democratic principles advocating for its importance. While the democratic rationale aligns with principles of equality and inclusion, it has not been sufficient to drive significant policy or reform in many educational settings, particularly in the United States.

One key obstacle is the entrenched power dynamics within schools, where traditional norms emphasize distinctions between students, teachers, and school leaders. Additionally, broader cultural norms in the United States prioritize adult authority, which has hindered the promotion of student voice initiatives. 

However, the segment suggests that the lack of systemic policy and reform regarding student voice cannot be solely attributed to cultural norms. Another significant factor is the lack of evidence demonstrating that student voice initiatives lead to improvements in academic outcomes. While proponents argue that responsiveness to student voice should enhance achievement, empirical evidence supporting this claim is limited.

Student voice, school improvement, and academic outcomes

The authors then present an alternative perspective on the importance of student voice in educational settings, beyond the democratic and rights-based rationales. They highlight scholars and reformers who advocate that student voice is integral to fostering a healthy school and classroom culture and can support academic outcomes and broader school improvement efforts.

Proponents argue that neglecting student voice in educational environments would be a mistake, as research suggests that when students are actively involved as co-creators of their learning environments, it leads to more productive opportunities for learning. This perspective does not dismiss the democratic rationale but rather sees democratic and academic aims as intersecting priorities, viewing youth as both a resource for school improvement and as contributors to democratic capacities and commitments.

Importantly, tying student voice initiatives to academic outcomes aligns them with the central priorities of educators and reformers. This connection underscores the significance of considering whether responsiveness to student voice can indeed promote academic success.

Pathways to promote academic outcomes.

Three distinct pathways through which responsiveness to student voice can enhance academic outcomes are identified. Drawing from Michael Fullan's perspective on the importance of student input in learning processes, the segment highlights the significance of hearing from students to ensure that learning is relevant and responsive.

The first pathway, the organizational pathway, suggests that responsiveness to student voice can influence school-level change and support school improvement efforts. Scholars argue that student voice can impact the way schools are organized and run, thereby promoting more impactful reform.

The second pathway, the classroom-level change pathway, emphasizes how responsiveness to student voice can lead to improvements in curriculum and instruction. By providing insights into effective teaching methods and topics of interest, students contribute to enhancing the learning experience.

Lastly, the segment discusses the development of student agency, belonging, and competence as the third pathway. Engaging and responding to student voice at both the school and classroom levels can foster a sense of agency, belonging, and leadership capacities among students. Research supports the claim that student voice initiatives contribute to students' sense of community and promote important dimensions of youth development.

What are the findings?

The article presents a large-scale quantitative study examining the relationship between responsiveness to student voice and academic outcomes. Using panel data on 9th graders from the Chicago Public Schools, the study observes a consistent, positive relationship between schools' responsiveness to student voice and students' grades and attendance. While the study acknowledges the limitations of observational data in establishing causality, it underscores the potential impact of student voice initiatives on academic trajectories and students' sense of attachment to their school.

Moreover, the study suggests that responsiveness to student voice is distinct from other forms of supportive school contexts, as it centers on recognizing students' agency, insights, and right to be heard. While acknowledging the potential academic benefits of attending to student voice, the article also warns against narrow or performative approaches that may overlook significant student critiques.

Furthermore, the study emphasizes the importance of responsiveness to student voice beyond academic goals, highlighting its potential to enhance students' sense of belonging, trust, and engagement with civic and political institutions. 

In conclusion, the study contributes to understanding the relationship between responsiveness to student voice and academic outcomes, while also underscoring the broader implications for student well-being, civic engagement, and the creation of inclusive school communities.

12 May 2024