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Teenage Researchers Probe Flaws in Their Schools

When was the last time you heard a high school student spouting quotes from Paulo Freire and W.E.B. DuBois?

That's what I heard over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. This year, for the first time, the association invited high school researchers from around the country to come and share findings from their own "action research" projects.

The researcher "mini-me's" came from inner-city high schools in Chicago; Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Tucson; and other cities. They've been working over the last few years with university-based researchers and their own teachers on projects aimed at improving educational circumstances in their own communities.

I sat in on a presentation by an impressive group of kids from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. The kids—Maurice McCoy, Richard McClain, Jaqui Herrera, Rebecca Torres, and Gabriela Dominguez—have been working since 2008, after school and over the summers, with researchers at UCLA's Institute for Democracy. They have learned how state and local budget cuts have affected their communities and identified barriers to college access in their own school.

The high school researchers surveyed fellow students, read the writings of social-justice theorists, collected information on state spending on educational and social services, and eventually developed a list of "educational demands."

In their AERA presentation on Sunday, the group shared videotapes of some of their student interviews and photos of empty library shelves. They also noted that Manual Arts has just two college counselors for 3,500 students and observed that the only colleges showing up at their college fairs are community colleges.

"I didn't even know we had AP courses until 11th grade," said Ms. Dominguez, a senior.

Back home, the group has also been sharing its findings with teachers and district school officials. In response, they said, the school has adjusted its counseling schedules to make college guidance more available to students.

"When you do stuff like that it kind of changes the way teachers view you," said Mr. McCoy, who is also a senior. "It's just a matter of being empowered." I say more power to them.

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