School & District Management

Leadership Opportunities

By Joetta L. Sack — October 04, 2005 2 min read
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Students are more likely than ever to serve as members of state and local school boards. But are their voices really heard?

A new survey suggests that, in fact, they are.

According to last week’s release of a report based on the survey, adult colleagues greatly value the opinions of the students who sit on those boards. The results were compiled by the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of State Boards of Education, which is calling for a more prominent role for students.

The report, “Student Leadership in Education,” can be purchased for $10 by calling (800) 220-5183.

According to NASBE, 12 state boards, the District of Columbia, and dozens of local school boards have at least one student member or adviser, though not all of the student members are allowed to vote. Several other states and districts are considering adding student members, the report adds.

“It is ironic that in a majority of states and localities, an 18-year-old high school senior may vote on the members who serve on their local boards of education and vote on bond issues that fund education, but cannot have their views considered at the board table on policies that affect the one institution that most directly impacts their day-to-day lives,” Brenda L. Welburn, NASBE’s executive director, wrote in a memo announcing the report.

The study also found that adult school board members who served with students reacted much more favorably to the presence of students than did adults who did not serve with youth representatives. The vast majority of students who had served on the boards ranked their experiences as very beneficial to their academic careers.

NASBE recommends a system in which a board would have two student members serving staggered two-year terms, each beginning in junior year. The idea is to have a junior who is learning the ropes and an experienced senior who knows the issues and board policies. The group does not take a position on whether students should vote or how boards should select student members.

One of the biggest weaknesses on state-level boards with student members, the survey found, was that the students did not have enough communication with a range of their student peers in all parts of their states. NASBE recommends that state boards find ways to help student members interact with other students, and says all school boards need to help ensure all students have access to leadership opportunities, including membership on the boards.

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2005 edition of Education Week

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