Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
School & District Management What the Research Says

Students’ Letters to the President Reveal Civics Engagement, Style

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 10, 2019 1 min read

Students’ civic priorities can vary significantly by their family’s income and racial background, finds a study in the American Educational Research Journal. But the way students make the case for their priorities may have more to do with the schools they attend.

Before the presidential elections in 2008 and 2016, some 20,000 students in more than 1,100 schools participated in Letters to the Next President, a classroom initiative by the National Writing Project and the National Public Radio station KQED. Students wrote in from all over the country, tagging their missives with many topics that have remained in the public debate today, from immigration and climate change to school spending and racial discrimination.

Stanford University researchers Antero Garcia, Amber Maria Levinson, and Emma Carene Gargroetzi analyzed the messages of 11,000 students written in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, categorizing them by topic and their schools’ geographic region and racial, socioeconomic, and other demographics.

Many topics drew broad interest from students, but the researchers also found significant differences in which groups of students prioritized particular topics. For example, students in schools serving a majority of students of color were twice as likely as those at majority-white schools to write about discrimination, immigration, and police issues, the study found. In schools that were not eligible for schoolwide Title I funding for disadvantaged students, letters were nearly twice as likely to focus on school hours and education testing.

Researchers also found differences in how students advocated, based on a sample of 138 letters that argued for legislative changes, written by students in racially and socioeconomically diverse schools in five states.

For example, students in the Ohio and Nevada schools made logical arguments in fewer than half their letters, while those in Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida did so in more than 80 percent of them. Two-thirds of the letters written in Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio appealed to ethics or morals, while just over a third of those from North Carolina and Florida used ethical arguments. The Florida school was the only one in which students used empathy in a majority of letters.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2019 edition of Education Week as Students’ Letters to the President Reveal Civics Engagement, Style

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Human Resources Manager
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Communications Officer
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Hamilton County Department of Education
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago

Read Next

School & District Management Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals
Months into the pandemic, elementary principals say they still want training in crucial areas to help students who are struggling.
3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
Maria Casinos/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management 1,000 Students, No Social Distancing, and a Fight to Keep the Virus Out
A principal describes the "nightmare" job of keeping more than 1,000 people safe in the fast-moving pandemic.
4 min read
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School, in West Jordan, Utah.
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School in West Jordan, Utah, would have preferred a hybrid schedule and other social distancing measures.
Courtesy of Dixie Rae Garrison
School & District Management A School Leader Who Calls Her Own Shots on Battling the Coronavirus
A charter school founder uses her autonomy to move swiftly on everything from classroom shutdowns to remote schooling.
3 min read
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of School at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, Ind.
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of school at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, makes swift decisions in responding to the threat of COVID-19 in her school community.
Courtesy of Nigena Livingston