Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 1–29 | Cite as

Pragmatism in student voice practice: What does it take to sustain a counter-normative reform in the long-term?

  • Catharine BiddleEmail author


Youth self-determination has been shown to be key to supporting youth engagement in school. However, the latent custodial and sorting functions of schooling often interfere with reform efforts that seek to change the nature of the central relationship of schooling—that of teacher and student. While many studies exist of short-term reform efforts, few long-term efforts in the United States have successfully persisted. This study is a longitudinal, embedded case study of a network of high schools, supported by an intermediary organization, committed to elevating student voice. Through a critical examination of the rapid prototyping approach the intermediary organization credits with the long-terms success of its program, I trace the adaptations of student voice theory and practice that occurred across 17 schools over a period of 5 years. I find that key adaptations that buffered organizational pressures—most notably teacher resistance to student voice—also moved the initiative away from the equity-focus that it embraced in early iterations. These findings point to the significance of value clarity in counter-normative reforms committed to developmental change and the challenges of avoiding the trap of only enriching the experiences of the most advantaged students.


Student voice Youth–adult partnership Rapid-prototyping Youth activism Narrative research 


  1. Abbott, A. (1988). Transcending general linear reality. Sociological Theory, 6(2), 169–186.Google Scholar
  2. Alinsky, S. (1971). Rules for radicals. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  3. Arnot, M., & Reay, D. (2007). A sociology of pedagogic voice: Power, inequality and pupil consultation. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 28(3), 311–325.Google Scholar
  4. Au, W. (2010). The idiocy of policy: The anti-democratic curriculum of high-stakes testing. Critical Education, 1(1), 1–15.Google Scholar
  5. Baroutsis, A., McGregor, G., & Mills, M. (2016). Pedagogic voice: Student voice in teaching and engagement pedagogies. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 24(1), 123–140.Google Scholar
  6. Beaudoin, N. (2005). Elevating student voice: How to enhance participation, citizenship, and leadership. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.Google Scholar
  7. Beck, L. G. (1992). Meeting the challenge of the future: The place of a caring ethic in educational administration. American Journal of Education, 100(4), 454–496.Google Scholar
  8. Biesta, G. (2010). Pragmatism and the philosophical foundations of mixed methods research. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (pp. 95–118). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Biesta, G., & Burbules, N. (2003). Pragmatism and educational research. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.Google Scholar
  10. Bourke, R., & Loveridge, J. (2016). Beyond the official language of learning: Teachers engaging with student voice research. Teaching and Teacher Education, 57, 59–66.Google Scholar
  11. Bragg, S. (2007a). Consulting young people: A review of the literature. Creative partnerships. London: Arts Council England.Google Scholar
  12. Bragg, S. (2007b). “Student voice” and governmentality: The production of enterprising subjects? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(3), 343–358.Google Scholar
  13. Brasof, M. (2015). Student voice and school governance: Distributing leadership to youth and adults. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Camino, L. (2005). Pitfalls and promising practices of youth–adult partnerships: An evaluator’s reflections. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(1), 75–85.Google Scholar
  15. Cammarota, J., & Fine, M. (2010). Revolutionizing education: Youth participatory action research in motion. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Cammarota, J., & Romero, A. (2011). Participatory action research for high school students: Transforming policy, practice, and the personal with social justice education. Educational Policy, 25(3), 488–506.Google Scholar
  17. Chávez, V., & Soep, E. (2005). Youth radio and the pedagogy of collegiality. Harvard Educational Review, 75(4), 409–434.Google Scholar
  18. Christens, B. D., & Dolan, T. (2011). Interweaving youth development, community development, and social change through youth organizing. Youth and Society, 43(2), 528–548.Google Scholar
  19. Christens, B. D., & Kirshner, B. (2011). Taking stock of youth organizing: An interdisciplinary perspective. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2011(134), 27–41.Google Scholar
  20. Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  21. Coburn, C. E. (2003). Rethinking scale: Moving behind numbers to deep and lasting change. Educational Researcher, 32(6), 3–12.Google Scholar
  22. Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing students’ perspectives: Toward trust, dialogue, and change in education. Educational Researcher, 31(4), 3–14.Google Scholar
  23. Cook-Sather, A. (2010). Through students’ eyes: Students offer fresh insights into social justice issues in schools. Journal of Staff Development, 31(4), 42–66.Google Scholar
  24. Cottle, M. (2018). How Parkland students changed the gun debate. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  25. Cushman, K. (2013). Minds on fire: Students, teachers, and neuroscientists compare notes on classroom lessons that ignite motivation and promote mastery. Educational Leadership, 71(4), 38–43.Google Scholar
  26. Delgado, R. S., & Stefancic, J. (2001). Critical race theory: An introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Dewey, J. (1916/1985). Democracy and education. In J. A. Boydston, & P. Baysinger (Eds.). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Dewey, J. (1938). Logic: The theory of inquiry. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  29. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  30. Fesmire, S. (2003). John Dewey and moral imagination: Pragmatism in ethics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Fielding, M. (2001). Students as radical agents of change. Journal of Educational Change, 2, 123–141.Google Scholar
  32. Fine, M., Torre, M., Burns, A., & Payne, Y. A. (2007). Youth research/participatory methods for reform. In A. Cook-Sather & D. Thiessen (Eds.), International handbook of student experience in elementary and secondary school (pp. 805–828). Amsterdam: Springer.Google Scholar
  33. Fishman, B. J., Penuel, W. R., Allen, A. R., Cheng, B. H., & Sabelli, N. O. R. A. (2013). Design-based implementation research: An emerging model for transforming the relationship of research and practice. National Society for the Study of Education, 112(2), 136–156.Google Scholar
  34. Fox, M., Mediratta, K., Ruglis, J., Stoudt, B., Shah, S., & Fine, M. (2010). Critical youth engagement: Participatory action research and organizing. In L. Sherrod, J. Torney-Purta & C. Flanagan (Eds.), Handbook of research on civic engagement in youth (pp. 621–650). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  35. Freeland, J. (2014). From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire. San Mateo, CA: Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.Google Scholar
  36. Fullan, M. (2007). The new meanings of education change. New York: New York Teachers Press.Google Scholar
  37. Giles, C., & Hargreaves, A. (2006). The sustainability of innovative schools as learning organizations and professional learning communities during standardized reform. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(1), 124–156.Google Scholar
  38. Ginwright, S., Noguera, P., & Cammarota, J. (Eds.). (2006). Beyond resistance! Youth activism and community change: New democratic possibilities for practice and policy for America’s youth. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Groundwater-Smith, S. (2011). Concerning equity: The voice of young people. Leading and Managing, 17(2), 52.Google Scholar
  40. Gustafson, K. L., & Branch, R. M. (1997). Revisioning models of instructional development. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(3), 73–89.Google Scholar
  41. Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Himmelfarb, G. (1994). On looking into the abyss: Untimely thoughts on culture and society. New York, NY: Random House.Google Scholar
  43. Keniston, K. (1971). Youth and dissent: The rise of a new opposition. New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  44. Kennedy-Lewis, B. L. (2015). Second chance or no chance? A case study of one urban alternative middle school. Journal of Educational Change, 16(2), 145–169.Google Scholar
  45. Kirshner, B. (2009). “Power in numbers”: Youth organizing as a context for exploring civic identity. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 19(3), 414–440.Google Scholar
  46. Kirshner, B. (2010). Productive tensions in youth participatory action research. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 109(1), 238–251.Google Scholar
  47. Kirshner, B., & Geil, K. (2010). “I’m about to really bring it!” Access points between youth activists and adult community leaders. Children, Youth and Environments, 20(2), 1–24.Google Scholar
  48. Kirshner, B., Pozzoboni, K., & Jones, H. (2011). Learning how to manage bias: A case study of youth participatory action research. Applied Developmental Science, 15(3), 140–155.Google Scholar
  49. Larson, R. W. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55(1), 170.Google Scholar
  50. Larson, R., Walker, K., & Pearce, N. (2005). A comparison of youth-driven and adult-driven youth programs: Balancing inputs from youth and adults. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(1), 57–74.Google Scholar
  51. Mager, U., & Nowak, P. (2012). Effects of student participation in decision making at school. A systematic review and synthesis of empirical research. Educational Research Review, 7(1), 38–61.Google Scholar
  52. Maxcy, S. (2003). Pragmatic threads in mixed methods research in the social sciences: The search for multiple modes of inquiry and the end of the philosophy of formalism. In A. Tashakorri & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (pp. 51–90). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. McFarland, D., & Starmanns, C. (2009). Inside student government: The variable quality of high school student councils. Teachers College Record, 111(1), 27–54.Google Scholar
  54. Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules. Seattle: Pear Press.Google Scholar
  55. Mitra, D. L. (2008a). Balancing power in communities of practice: An examination of increasing student voice through school-based youth–adult partnerships. Journal of Educational Change, 9(3), 221–242.Google Scholar
  56. Mitra, D. L. (2008b). Amplifying student voice. Educational Leadership, 66(3), 20–25.Google Scholar
  57. Mitra, D. L. (2009a). The role of intermediary organizations in sustaining student voice initiatives. Teachers College Record, 111(7), 1834–1870.Google Scholar
  58. Mitra, D. L. (2009b). Collaborating with students: Building youth–adult partnerships in schools. American Journal of Education, 115(3), 407–436.Google Scholar
  59. Mitra, D. S., & Biddle, C. (2012). Youth and adults transforming schools together: Evaluation year IV. Unpublished manuscript. Pennsylvania State University.Google Scholar
  60. Mitra, D. L., & Gross, S. J. (2009). Increasing student voice in high school reform: Building partnerships, improving outcomes. Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 37(4), 522–543.Google Scholar
  61. Mitra, D. L., & Kirshner, B. (2012). Insiders versus outsiders: Examining variability in student voice initiatives and their consequences for school change. In B. J. McMahon & J. P. Portelli (Eds.), Student engagement in urban schools: Beyond neoliberal discourses (pp. 49–72). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  62. Mitra, D. L., Sanders, F. C., & Perkins, D. F. (2010). Providing spark and stability: The role of intermediary organizations in establishing school-based youth–adult partnerships. Applied Developmental Science, 14(2), 106–123.Google Scholar
  63. Mitra, D. L., & Serriere, S. C. (2012). Student voice in elementary school reform examining youth development in fifth graders. American Educational Research Journal, 49(4), 743–774.Google Scholar
  64. Mitra, D. L., Serriere, S., & Stoicovy, D. (2012). The role of leaders in enabling student voice. Management in Education, 26(3), 104–112.Google Scholar
  65. Murphy, J. F. (2016). Understanding schooling through the eyes of students. New York: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  66. Ormrod, J. E. (1999). Human learning (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.Google Scholar
  67. Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2006). Moral competence and character strengths among adolescents: The development and validation of the values in action inventory of strengths for youth. Journal of Adolescence, 29(6), 891–909.Google Scholar
  68. Patton, M. Q. (2011). Developmental evaluation: Applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  69. Pelletier, S. (2012). Leadership for a new era of student activism: Does the “Occupy” movement signal a new era of student activism? American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from Accessed 10 May 2013.
  70. Perkins, D. F., & Borden, L. M. (2003). Key elements of community youth development programs. In F. Villaruel, D. F. Perkins, L. Borden, & J. G. Keith (Eds.), Community youth development: Programs, policies, and practices (pp. 327–340). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  71. Pittman, K., Irby, M., & Ferber, T. (2001). Unfinished business: Further reflections on a decade of promoting youth development. In P. Benson, & K. Pittman (Eds.), Trends in youth development: Vision, realities and changes (pp. 3–50). Boston, MA: Springer.Google Scholar
  72. Pleasance, S. (2016). Student voice and its role in sustainability. In D. Summers & R. Cutting (Eds.), Education for sustainable development in further education (pp. 213–229). London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  73. Powers, C. B., & Allaman, E. (2012). How participatory action research can promote social change and help youth development. Kinder Braver World Project. Retrieved from Accessed 13 June 2013.
  74. Reeb, R. N., & Folger, S. F. (2012). Community outcomes of service learning. In P. Clayton & R. Bringle (Eds.), Research on service learning: Conceptual frameworks and assessment: Communities, institutions, and partnerships (pp. 389–418). Sterling, VA: Stylus.Google Scholar
  75. Rudduck, J. (2007). Student voice, student engagement, and school reform. In A. Cook-Sather & D. Thiessen (Eds.), International handbook of student experience in elementary and secondary school (pp. 587–610). Amsterdam: Springer.Google Scholar
  76. Rudduck, J., & McIntyre, D. (2007). Improving learning through consulting pupils. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  77. Russell, B. (1909). Pragmatism. Philosophical essays (pp. 79–111). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  78. Shah, S., & Mediratta, K. (2008). Negotiating reform: Young people’s leadership in the educational arena. New Directions for Student Leadership, 117, 43–59.Google Scholar
  79. Silva, E. (2003). Struggling for inclusion: A case study of students as reform partners. In B. Rubin & E. Silva (Eds.), Critical voices in school reform: Students living through change. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  80. Sinclair, R. (2004). Participation in practice. Making it meaningful, effective and sustainable. Children and Society, 18, 106–118.Google Scholar
  81. Smyth, J. (2007). Toward the pedagogically engaged school: Listening to student voice as a positive response to disengagement and ‘dropping out’? In D. Thiessen & A. Cook-Sather (Eds.), International handbook of student experience in elementary and secondary school (pp. 635–658). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  82. Sousa, D. (2006). How the brain learns (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  83. Taines, C. (2014). Educators and youth activists: A negotiation over enhancing students’ role in school life. Journal of Educational Change, 15(2), 153–178.Google Scholar
  84. Taylor, C., & Robinson, C. (2009). Student voice: Theorising power andparticipation. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 17(2), 161–175.Google Scholar
  85. Tolman, J., Pittman, K., Cervone, B., Cushman, K., Rowley, L., Kinkade, S., & Duque, S. (2001). Youth acts, community impacts: Stories of youth engagement with real results. Forum for Youth Investment. Retrieved from Accessed 10 July 2018.
  86. Toshalis, E., & Nakkula, M. J. (2012). Motivation, engagement, and student voice. Students at the Center. Retrieved from Accessed 10 July 2018.
  87. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind and society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  88. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  89. Yonezawa, S., & Jones, M. (2009). Student voices: Generating reform from the inside out. Theory into Practice, 48(3), 205–212.Google Scholar
  90. Zeldin, S., McDaniel, A. K., Topitzes, D., & Calvert, M. (2000). Youth in decision-making: A study on the impacts of youth and adults and organizations. Retrieved from Accessed 22 Feb 2013

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MaineOronoUSA

Personalised recommendations