Student Involvement in Teacher Evaluation
In 2006, students of the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) took on the issue of incorporating student voice in the evaluation of teachers. With intentional relationship building, BSAC students collaborated with the teachers union and experts in the field to create a teacher evaluation tool called the “Constructive Feedback Form.” With a long-term goal of making the form a mandatory part of teacher evaluation, BSAC started small introducing a pilot program in the 2007-2008 school year at one high school. In this pilot, the constructive feedback policy stipulated that only teachers would have access to the feedback and would have the freedom to do what they liked with it.
The success of the pilot set the stage for a district-wide proposal to implement Student to Teacher Constructive Feedback in every BPS high school. After years of deliberations and revisions, the newly revised form, along with a proposal for its implementation, was unanimously voted into policy by the Boston School Committee in May 2010. BSAC surveyed the Boston Teachers Union on student involvement in the evaluation of teachers and was thrilled to find that responses were overwhelmingly positive. With support from teachers and a favorable national landscape around teacher evaluation reform, the timing was right for BSAC to push for fully incorporating student feedback as a part of official teacher evaluations.
Working with the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Task Force on reforming teacher evaluation, BSAC initiated its statewide campaign – “We Are the Ones in the Classroom: Ask Us!” While the campaign drew widespread public support, its primary target—The Massachusetts Board of Education—remained silent. BSAC students built a wide coalition of supporters, advocating tirelessly. In June of 2011, BSAC won a huge advocacy victory when the Massachusetts Board of Education voted in favor of mandatory student involvement in teacher evaluations for all public high schools across the state. With the policy change won, BSAC is now working to ensure the successful implementation in Boston. BSAC students have changed the conversation around student voice in teacher evaluation and are looked to as national experts. See their Harvard Education Review article and Student Involvement in Teacher Evaluation website.
Free Transit for Chicago Students
The Mikva Challenge Mayoral Youth Commission conducted interviews with students from diverse neighborhoods and communities to discover the most pressing needs of young Chicagoans, and found that most had something in common.
Students discovered the following problem: A majority of Chicago public high school students are low-income and also ride the CTA to get to school. Many youth cannot afford even the student reduced-fare cards, creating a negative impact on their school attendance. As one student on the commission, Augustin, put it, “As part of the Youth Commission, we’ve been able to go around the City and hear from different demographics of students about their problems. One need we identified was need to for a free-fare CTA pass, which can be combined with a student’s ID and library card to create one mutli-purpose card, or the “Chi-card.” Studies have shown that low attendance predicts who will drop out.
They then advocated for the following solution: Provide free transit fare cards to low-income students to boost their attendance. Target CPS high schools where the majority of students qualify for free- or reduced-lunch, CTA ridership is high, and principals are committed to implementing the program.
After several meetings with decision makers, the Mayor approved a pilot program in 5 schools. If successful, free Fare could expand city-wide. Data from the initial pilot showed an increase in attendance at the five schools. It worked! Students on the commission are continuing to advocate for further expansion.
In Spring 2012, GC student Nadia Issa made an appeal for increased recycling in schools at Generation Citizen’s Boston Civics Day. Having noticed the lack of recycling options at Boston Arts Academy, Nadia and her classmates realized that, without a system that worked, fellow students would simply not recycle. Inspired by Nadia’s passion, well-researched plan, and data from her school, Civics Day guest Councilor Felix Arroyo filed a hearing order to launch single stream recycling – not only in Nadia’s school, but across the entire district ( Part 1: We Should Call it Nadia’s Law).
The hearing took place, and the Committee on Education supported a plan by BPS Facilities and the Center for Green Schools to launch a single-stream recycling initiative across 50 BPS schools, with the aim of expanding to all 125 BPS schools ( “Nadia’s Law”: Part 2). The Committee members applauded that Nadia and her classmates spoke up, and made a point of advocating for ongoing youth participation in the recycling initiative. In September 2012, BPS moved forward with the proposed initiative. Mayor Menino rang in the event with a special ceremony at Blackstone Elementary (The Launch:).
Advocating for Beaver Dam
Students at Reagan Middle School kicked off the Earth Force Process by taking a walk-about on their school grounds. While doing this inventory, they discovered a local beaver population moving into the creek in their Outdoor Learning Center next to their school. Although they were excited to have the beavers back in their habitat, the beavers were creating dams on the lower end of the creek, and during rainstorms, the water would back up and flood, causing pollutants to run into the creek. When researching the possible causes of the problem, they realized trapping and moving the beavers would not guarantee that their permanent removal.
In order to create a sustainable solution, students had to get to the root of the problem. The students consulted a local wildlife biologist from the Texas Parks and Wildlife District who taught them about a possible solution that would allow the beavers to stay, but would prevent future flooding. To help with the installation of the project, student brought in 911 Wildlife, a local organization that works to prevent native Texas wildlife from being relocated by offering humane and effective solutions. “No matter how many beavers you trap and take away, as long as there is water, there will be others that move in,” said Bonnie Bradshaw, president of 911 Wildlife.
With help from experts in the field, students came out to the school on a Saturday to put their solution into action. Using PVC pipe to help release excess water caused during a heavy rain, students built a “beaver deceiver.” Now the beavers can continue to live in the Outdoor Learning Center without it flooding and the students can enjoy the species in its natural habitat. When reflecting on the project, students learned the importance of working with the environment when creating a sustainable solution. The presence of the beavers creates a habitat for other plants and animals that otherwise would not exist in this area.