The Youth Researchers for a New Education System Project – Eve Tuck, Maria Bacha, Irving Morales, Nzhingha Nkhrumah, Ludwige Saintus, Teresa Ann Willis, and Joanna Vogel
This participatory action research project took place between January and November, 2007. The goal of the project was to capture NYC youths’ experiences in public schools. As the team of youth researchers began to work together, two main questions emerged: 1) What are NYC youths’ perspectives on what is and isn’t provided in their schools? 2) What are NYC youths’ perspectives on school organization and leadership? To answer these main questions, the project utilized mixed methods that included a quantitative survey, qualitative focus groups and the Problem Tree.
As we collected and began to analyze our data, we realized that the question of youth perspectives on what is and isn’t provided (question one) could be largely understood as related to unevenly and unfairly distributed resources and competition. The question of youth perspectives on school organization and leadership (question two) could be understood as related to mayoral control and diminished community and youth participation in schooling decision making. These realizations helped us to hone our questions so that we could pose direct questions to youth about their experiences with school resources and access, competition, mayoral control, and opportunities for participation.
The data collection phase of our study was coincidentally simultaneous to a major survey effort in public schools initiated by the Mayor’s office. Although we applauded the Mayor’s office for systematically polling parents and students about their experiences with the school system, we observed that important questions of resources, leadership, and participation were absent from the survey items. For this reason, we spread the word of our survey as, “Not your mayor’s survey.”
Our research yielded three major findings that each serve as an umbrella for many other findings. They are:
1) Young people in New York City believe their schooling is important to them
2) Resources and access to opportunities are unfairly distributed in our school system and in our schools
3) Young people in New York City want more meaningful opportunities to participate in decision making about schooling
Our findings may come as a surprise to some, but we doubt they will be a surprise to many of those who are educators, parents, current and former students, and those who are thoughtful about schooling. These arguments also serve as a progression of our argument/critique of the NYC school system in 2008. It is our hope that our findings will aid in the work toward improving our schools, especially in the redressed distribution of resources and the distribution of leadership and participation.
Our project was featured in “Courage: The Vision to End Segregation, the Guts to fight for It” an exhibit at the Schomberg Center for Research on Black Culture, New York Public Library. For more information see the YRNES report http://web.gc.cuny.edu/che/YRNES_REPORT.pdf .