Opinion: Students deserve voice in debate

The recently ended legislative session was remarkable for the amount of statewide discussion around education, primarily H.883, the proposal to consolidate school districts. While H.883 was a school governance bill, the debate essentially focused on the education of Vermont students. Supporters of the bill argued that consolidation of districts would increase educational opportunities and improve equity. Opponents asserted that local control results in the best decisions for students. Both sides felt their position would serve taxpayers best.
Vermont media devoted a great deal of time and space to many powerful players in Vermont education during the debate. Educational experts, including former education commissioners, college presidents and professors, weighed in on both sides. A legislative hearing on the bill drew superintendents, administrators, school board members and concerned parents and citizens.
As Vermonters, we should be proud that we are having a robust conversation about education. Education matters greatly in shaping the future of the state. While we should continue to discuss how best to educate our students, we must include one more vitally important voice in the conversation: the students. To truly provide the best education for our students, we must hear from them.
Since the statewide discussion of H.883 did not include student voices, it was incomplete. To its credit, the Legislature took testimony and sought out information from education experts. However, these adult experts, with few exceptions, are most likely 20, 30 or 40 years out of high school. Without a doubt, they have a lot of experience in the field of education, but their experiences as students are outdated.
Going forward, the Legislature should consider current students as education experts because of their unique perspective. They experience the results of administrator decisions, school board policies and state mandates on a daily basis. Who better to ask about what works in education and what needs improvement?
Additionally, including students in discussions about education policy helps develop those skills necessary to succeed in the work place of tomorrow where these students will be employed. Education today is about creating citizens able to collaborate, communicate and think creatively. These are precisely the skills that would be fostered by including students in statewide discussions on education.
Finally, placing value in student voice ensures the best decisions get made. Student input is crucial because it will ensure that the Legislature is completely informed prior to any decisions about education. Statewide education policy designed with students, and all other stakeholders, will meet with more success because all voices will have been heard.
As Vermont continues to work to improve the education at the local, regional and state level, the student voice must be heard. Student-adult partnerships should exist to make decisions in schools, on local boards, and at the state level. To make the best decisions and ensure the best education for our students, we need to hear all voices. We need to hear those just finding their voice, with one year before graduation, to those with a lifetime of experience, preparing to celebrate their 45th high school reunion.
Erik Remsen
Editor’s note: Erik Remsen is a teacher at Rutland High School and a member of the UD-3 School Board; he graduated from Mount Mansfield Union High School more than 15 years ago. The views in this piece are his alone, and do not represent those of the school at which he teaches, the board on which he serves, nor for that matter the school from which he graduated.

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