Research Supporting Meaningful Student Involvement

There is a body of literature that broadly summarizes, examines, and assesses Meaningful Student Involvement. I have collected that which pays particular attention to the roles of students in school change.

Meaningful Student Involvement is the process of engaging the knowledge, experience and perspectives of students in every facet of the educational process for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy.

There are multiple approaches to changing the roles of young people in schools that can count as Meaningful Student Involvement. Generally speaking, Meaningful Student involvement occurs when schools engage students as teachers, education researchers, school planners, classroom evaluators, system-wide school decisionmakers, and education advocates. Ultimately, and most importantly, Meaningful Student Involvement seeks to raise students above their own narrow conceptions of self-interest for the benefit of the schools and communities they are members of.

The articles, journals, and books I have reviewed came from both scholarly research that represents a scientific, theory-testing approach; and applied research that employs case studies resulting in theories. The goal of my review is to identify what literature exists and evaluate its value in advocating for Meaningful Student Involvement.

As the research shows, activities related to Meaningful Student Involvement are happening across the U.S. and around the world. In Bear Valley, California, high school students worked with professional researchers to design a program that would measure students’ opinions and experiences in school. In Cheney, Washington, second grade students redesigned their classroom curriculum. Across the U.S., students in the Generation YES program lead workshops and programs that train teachers to use technology in their classrooms. In other countries, including England, Australia, and Norway, there are actually federal mandates that elicit student involvement in education decision-making. 

These stories continue, leaving irrefutable evidence that there is a growing movement for Meaningful Student Involvement. In many ways, the research surrounding Meaningful Student Involvement represents a turning point for education improvement efforts. The tide is turning from the antiquated notion of students as passive recipients of teaching, to a new recognition of the interdependence that is necessary between students and adults. 
Students and adults are raising the bar of expectations for what students can do. As my review has shown, students are seriously engaged in critical reflection about their schools, uniting with their peers and adults in collective action, and engaged with adult education leaders to seek uncommon and innovative strategies to chronic problems in schools. Schools can strengthen themselves by creating, learning from, replicating, and supporting Meaningful Student Involvement so that students can work with adults to determine how to make our schools better places to learn.
That’s the goal.
Excerpted from Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide, © 2003, 2012 CommonAction. All rights reserved. For more information, including professional development for educators and students, contact our office today by emailing

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