When Carol Utay realized that nothing was being done to track all of the ways Goals 2000 was at work in her state’s schools, she decided that she and her students should do something about it.
And, so, in March of last year, Ms. Utay, the technology coordinator for the 7,300-student Jessamine County, Ky., schools, launched a unique study of Goals 2000 in Kentucky.
“I found that Goals 2000 did what it was supposed to do in Jessamine County, and it really did amazing things in other schools,” she said. “I wanted to tell the stories that weren’t being told, and there was no mechanism in place to tell these stories.”
Over the course of the past year, 40 Jessamine County students, ranging in age from 10 to 18, used part of a $50,000 Goals 2000 grant to spend a year researching how schools in their state used funding from the federal school reform program. Last month, they relayed their findings to federal lawmakers in Washington and key education policymakers there.
''A lot of people were surprised when I started using students [as researchers]. Here, we have a philosophy in practice that students come to school to work, not to watch adults work, and we are committed to that real-world experience,” Ms. Utay said.
The students’ efforts did not go unnoticed by the federal Department of Education. Their presentation to department officials was “really well thought-out, well-organized, and succinct,” said Cindy Cisneros, the department’s group leader for Goals 2000.
“Ultimately, we want to know what happened and how the funding impacts the classroom,” Ms. Cisneros said. “It is important to get this kind of feedback. It is essential for our own policy decisions so we can change how we view things in the future.”
Goals 2000, a sometimes controversial Clinton administration initiative that pays for a range of reform projects, has a $461 million appropriation in the current fiscal year. According to federal estimates, Goals 2000 dollars help finance projects in about 12,000 schools.
Ms. Utay’s research plan was for students to interview officials at a geographically diverse sample of some 40 Kentucky schools that received Goals 2000 money in the 1997-98 school year to document how the schools used the money. Students and teachers from five Jessamine County schools--Willmore Elementary and East and West Jessamine Middle and High schools--were selected or volunteered to participate. They received guidance on interviewing and note-taking techniques from a research professor at the University of Kentucky and then spent last summer and spare time in the fall conducting interviews at the schools in the sample.
Some of the interviews were videotaped and now appear online along with the reports and a presentation explaining what the interviewers had learned. Rather than presenting hard-core data-crunching research, the students simply documented how Goals 2000 was at work in the various schools they studied.
“I didn’t understand how schools got money to fund things before, but now I realize that we need more of these grants, and we need to keep the ones we have,” said Ryan Davis, a 15-year-old 9th grader at West Jessamine Middle School and a participant in the project.
After the interviews and reports were finished, students were tapped to serve as experts in various fields, including technology, speaking, and press relations and to make up presentation groups of varying ages.
An advance-planning group researched organizations and legislators in Washington and made appointments to talk to them. All five presentation groups ventured to Washington, visiting the Education Trust and the National Education Association, among other organizations.
“I think we were all quite impressed by what some of the younger ones had done,” said Nevin Brown, the principal partner of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that advocates higher academic achievement for all students. “They seemed used to the technology, but there were some questions some of us in education reform would have asked.”
Mr. Brown explained that, while the students looked at how technology was being taught, he would like to have seen what technology was being used for and how it was being used for instruction. Still, he said, “when they [the students] left, we talked about how great it was to have students here and how well they presented.”
Mark Taylor, an education adviser to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said he was impressed by the students, even though their findings were not “revolutionary”.
“It was the first real-world example of how Goals 2000 works at the local level using students,” he said. “I recommended that they build on the information and have a student group find resources to apply for. Anytime a student gets involved, it helps.”
The students came away from the nation’s capital with their own impressions.
“A lot of organizations we spoke to really understood what we had to say and wanted to help us put some things in action,” Ryan, the 9th grader from West Jessamine Middle School, said. “Others cared, but not in the realm of what they could do, and they just put us out of their minds.”
The project does not end now that the students have been to Washington. Students will study the 1998-99 funding and present their findings at a summit next June for Kentucky schools that receive Goals 2000 money.
“These research findings are interesting,” Ms. Utay said. “Things are happening, and one thing we don’t have time for is to reinvent the wheel. We need to discuss what works and what doesn’t work.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 23, 1999 edition of Education Week as Students Spend Year Documenting Goals 2000 Projects