A National Trend: The Rise of the Student Voice in the Classroom

 

Four years ago, student opinion in teacher evaluation wasn’t on anybody’s radar. The influence of students extended only to their test scores and how others interpreted their progress. But now, across the U.S., the tide is turning in support of a student voice in the form of student surveys as a constructive form of teacher evaluation.

“If you ask them in the right way, the students have the most insight into the performance of teachers,” said David Parker, a senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  According to Parker, the foundation allotted $50 million for one of the largest education research projects ever created, the Measures of Effective Teaching project. He said the project aimed to find a “360 degree view of teacher practice.”

Other advocates, such as youth-run organizations, haven’t wasted any time as the surveys they support have launched into the limelight. Aaron Feuer, CEO and founder of Boston-based Panorama Education, runs one of the largest student survey companies, serving 4,000 schools across the country. A 2013 Yale graduate, Feuer built his company’s product after lobbying on behalf of student surveys in California’s legislature.

“There’s a policy that people want,” he said. “The only thing stopping them is technology.” Feuer founded Panorama Education, which recently raised $4 million for its K-12 survey from various organizations including Mark Zuckerberg’s Startup: Education
and Google Ventures. Even with this success, Feuer sees a daunting challenge for his team, in scaling up their operations.

“We run a lot of the major student survey work in the country,” he said, but added that they still face substantial challenges. “1 million students is only 2% of the total,” he said. Different models and organizations hold sway in various locales and provide a variety of propositions. Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) used public policy to influence Chicago’s student survey landscape; working with Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers’ Union, VOYCE helped Chicago to start issuing student surveys over the next two years.

Across the country, support for student voice in teacher evaluation is growing. However, students and companies both still face obstacles, largely due to perceptions of student surveys that hinder further progress.

“Surveys can provide information not only for teacher evaluation systems, but also formative information for teachers about how to improve their practice,” said Parker. He believes, however, that oftentimes people only recognize the former. In attempts to counter this perception, the Gates Foundation released a white paper on the MET website outlining how to effectively implement high quality student surveys.

Backed by practice and research, the market for student surveys across the country has exploded over the past four years. Once an underappreciated aspect of teacher evaluation, it is now finding advocates in both community organizations and the private sector, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

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