Report Offers Only a Clouded Understanding of Youth Engagement

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: The report draws attention to a range of ways that young people can be included in decision-making process, but its framework is applied in a way that creates confusion.

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When youth engage in collective-impact strategies, they have the potential to strengthen the design, implementation, and outcomes of school decision-making. A recent Urban Institute report takes up this important topic, examining what youth engagement initiatives look like within a broader reform structure. It presents a continuum of youth involvement—focused on issues of support, input, and leadership.

Professor Dana Mitra of Penn State University reviewed Youth Engagement in Collective Impact Initiatives: Lessons from Promise Neighborhoods. She found examples of this continuum and some description of strengths and weaknesses. But ultimately she found that the continuum created more confusion than clarity, because key examples did not fit where they were placed within the framework.

The report considers the challenges involved in creating youth empowerment initiatives, providing examples of three of the federal Promise Neighborhood initiative sites. Yet while the report defines youth engagement as “the intentional, meaningful and sustained involvement of young people in actions to create positive social change,” the descriptions in the first phase of the continuum—mentoring, case management, service learning—are not examples of youth engaged in actions to create change.

Professor Mitra found this mismatch to occur because the examples given in the report were drawn from a convenience sample without an explanation of why they illuminate the framework. Though the strengths and challenges presented do align with previous research regarding the contexts that enable and constrain youth engagement, the report fails to make these connections explicit.

Overall, Professor Mitra concludes, though the report champions youth engagement, it misses an opportunity to influence future policy and practice.

Find the review, by Dana L. Mitra, at:
https://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/youth-engagement

Find Youth Engagement in Collective Impact Initiatives: Lessons from Promise Neighborhoods, written by Jessica Shakesprere, Mica O’Brien, and Eona Harison and published by the Urban Institute, at: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/103408/youth-engagement-in-collective-impact-initiatives_1.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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Michelle Renée Valladares

Dana L. Mitra
Penn State University
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