Elena M. Silva
A recent wave of school reform literature provides an extensive discourse on ways to restructure, reorganize, and reassess the American high school (Carlson, 1996; Oakes et al., 2000; Lee and Smith, 2001). Local, state and national reform agendas emphasize school reform initiatives that promote principles of shared decision-making, democratic governance, and student-centered change. 1 In response to this trend, school administrators are increasingly sanctioning the involvement of teachers, parents, and students in school change efforts. Yet while these calls for greater collaborative inquiry and action ostensibly include students and center on student learning and achievement, students themselves are rarely asked to participate in reform decision-making, development or implementation. To date, there is little evidence of student voice and participation within the increasing number of school reform efforts that claim their involvement (Kaba, 2000; Fielding, 2001). Consequently, students are treated as recipients of the educational product rather than partners in the educational process and reforms come and go without attention to the diverse opinions, perspectives and experiences of students.
This chapter, in part, is a tribute to the practice of student inclusion in school decision-making and reform, particularly within the current efforts to restructure comprehensive, desegregated public high schools. However, the research grounding this philosophy complicates the simple notion that schools will be more democratic, equitable, and effective and students will be more empowered, engaged and successful simply by inviting students to participate in school reform. 2 This chapter begins with some background on the current trend toward shared decision-making and student inclusion in school reform. Next, it offers a case study of one group of students as they struggle to become full participants in their California high school's restructuring process. The experiences and perspectives of these students offer a window into the rhetoric and reality of including students as participants in the school change process.