Public Policy Associates, Inc. is partnering with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to document the experiences and perspectives of students of color in Michigan’s public school system. PPA manages the Student Voice Project for MDE. Part of MDE’s African American Student Initiative, Student Voice collects data through focus groups with African-American students in public schools throughout the state. The goal is to help Michigan schools narrow the achievement gap between African-American students and others by listening to these students about their experiences.
Focus groups are used to solicit the perspectives of students to help examine the current culture and climate in public school buildings. Insights are shared with school-building leaders and MDE to help create safe, nurturing learning environments and support systems that benefit all students.
“Student Voice is about empowering youth to contribute to changing the conditions in schools,” said PPA President Paul Elam, who is leading the project. “Their unique perspectives are crucial to creating education environments that foster success.”
Three key insights have emerged from the focus groups:
- Context matters in educational outcomes.
Where students live and attend school makes a difference in how they are treated in their neighborhoods and whether race and/or racial incidents are a significant part of their lives.
- Authentic, positive relationships with teachers are essential to student success.
The quality of relationships between teachers and students often dictates how students view themselves, education, and school, all of which affect their academic effort and performance. Effective teachers are a critical ingredient in students’ success. When teachers fail to challenge, stimulate, and support African-American students, their academic performance may be greatly diminished. They say many teachers don’t believe in them and expect them to fail. In some cases, teachers fear them.
- Modern racism behaviors are prevalent in schools.
Race and ethnicity play a role in how students are treated and in their relationships or lack of authentic relationships with teachers. African-American students experience unintentional bias from White students and school staff, and sometimes from other African-American students. Racial micro-aggressions, as well as overt and subtle racist acts, are committed frequently in communities throughout the state.
To date, PPA researchers have conducted focus groups in 55 schools with approximately 800 students across the state. The students are providing rich insights into their environments at school and in their neighborhoods. The students’ feedback is being used to develop culturally responsive action plans that result in effective practices for improving student-teacher relationships and ultimately student retention and academic performance.
Public Policy Associates, Inc. provides research and strategic consultation services to help its clients. To learn more about PPA’s social justice work with the Michigan Department of Education, contact Paul Elam at 517-485-4477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.