Monday, June 15, 2009 | The teens shuffled their papers, only slightly nervous in their jeans and hoodies in the dimly lit classroom at Crawford High School. Teachers sat arrayed before them, waiting to hear their report.
The topic was not a Hemingway novel or an epoch in world history — the kinds of things that teens study by day — nor were they angling for a good grade. They had spent their free time studying the school itself: how much homework teens got, whether they felt ready for college, and how students felt it could be improved. And they were ready to turn the tables and give the teachers a lesson for a change.
The Crawford kids were not alone. Across town, teens at Lincoln and two schools within San Diego High were putting together the last of their charts. “I’d never done anything like this before,” said Ilana Battaglia, a soft spoken freshman at the School of International Studies within San Diego High.
Teens are usually under the microscope in education research as scholars try to figure out how to raise their test scores or why they drop out. Now the teens are manning the microscopes. A fledgling extracurricular project, now in its third year in San Diego Unified, empowers students to study the inner workings of their own schools, from why teens skip tutoring to whether classes are interesting.
Trained by researchers from the University of California, San Diego, students at four different schools chose their own questions, learned to conduct interviews, gathered and analyzed data from surveys and classroom visits, and even explained their work at an annual conference for education wonks in the convention center downtown. The teens volunteered for the project and met roughly once a week after school.
“There is always debate about how to improve schools,” said Makeba Jones, a project scientist at the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence at UCSD, who led the project along with fellow researcher Susan Yonezawa. “Who better to ask than the students themselves?”