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Student Voices in School Reform

Center for Teaching Quality

“They’re going to think you're cute, as soon as your stand up and start talking...It’s going to be hard to convince them that you’re serious. That’s why you need solid research to back up your ideas." Esmeralda Aries recalls hearing this advice from her teacher as she prepared to stand before her school's faculty council. Read her story of student-led educational reform in Oakland, CA.

Photo credit: olygrapher via Flickr

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  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I LOVE that you empowered Esmeralda to speak up via this blog- and that she knew she had to do research to prove herself. I love how she saw a problem and was able to come up with a solution: "We realized that our school needed better trained teachers and a solid evaluation system. We decided to come up with a system that would fix these problems and we were able to present it to the faculty in our school. It was a great experience because I was finally able to get my voice out there and say what I did not like about my school system and be able to offer a solution to that problem." Her solution makes so much sense- did you guys give her guidance? "Our second idea was to grow our own teachers here in Oakland. We thought that the city could offer a program that guides Oakland students from high school throughout college and a teaching credential, guarantying them a job in a Oakland school once they graduate. We think this is a good idea because that way these teachers have an idea of what kind of environment an Oakland student faces day by day and all the struggles we face in life being Oakland."

    • David Orphal

      Thank you for the comment - this was a fantastic project. I had four teams across two sections of my Introduction to Education class working on four different school-reform proposals. Esme was on the "Better Trained Teachers" team. Other teams included "Classroom Supplies Budgets," "Smaller Teacher:Student Ratios," and "Late-start Rather than Early-release Minimum Days."

      All four teams presented their finding to our school's Faculty Council. It was a proud-parent kind of day, watching them talk with such poise and preparation.

      I did nothing to influence the choices my students made regarding their choices of reform ideas to pursue. They came up with over twenty different ideas and then discusses the relative merit and feasibility of each before settling on the four they would work on.

      It was my opportunity to visit Finland and talk with teachers and education officials there that influences our studies of that country as a comparison model. What a joy it was to exchange e-mails with my students as they studied in books what I was studying in person.

      You can find several essays about Esme's project and my other teams at my blog "After the Bell" on

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Wonderful. Thanks for sharing. It seems like Design Thinking translates really well to the classroom. Perhaps that's how teachers should be conducting classes.