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IES Grant

Title: Exploring Youth Leadership Councils: Developmental Competencies, Critical Consciousness, and School and Civic Engagement
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Kirkland, David Awardee: New York University
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (03/15/2018 – 06/30/2021) Award Amount: $1,399,999
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A170639

Previous Award Number: R305A170423
Previous Awardee: Brown University

Co-Principal Investigators: McAlister, Sara; Diemer, Matthew

Purpose: The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to determine if there is a relationship between high school students' participation in youth leadership councils (YLCs) and their developmental competencies (e.g., academic self-efficacy, social skills) and critical consciousness (i.e., the ability to think critically about social inequalities and how to remediate them). This project's central hypothesis was that participation in YLCs is associated with growth in these areas because YLCs lead to feelings of being supported by adults, which in turn increase school and civic engagement. The findings of this exploratory study can be used to inform practice and further research on YLCs and other civic education initiatives both in and outside of schools as a means of fostering school achievement and positive life outcomes.

Project Activities: Over a period of three years, the research team surveyed, interviewed, and observed high school students in New York City (NYC) who participated in borough student advisory councils (BSACs) – a type of YLC – overseen by the NYC Department of Education. The researchers used qualitative approaches (interviews, focus groups, observations, and document review) and quantitative approaches (analyses of survey and administrative data using structural equation modeling and longitudinal growth modeling) to identify practices in BSACs that are associated with student developmental competencies, critical consciousness, and engagement in school.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this exploratory study are as follows:

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place in New York City.

Sample: In total, 290 high school students participated in borough student advisory councils (BSACs) overseen by the NYC Department of Education. There was no minimal level of academic achievement required for participation; instead, most students were recommended by teachers and administrators based on strong leadership skills.

Intervention: Youth leadership councils (YLCs) are a type of youth-adult partnership that models participatory governance and shows promise for supporting success in school and work. Through practices such as leadership training, teamwork, action research on personally relevant topics, and in some cases, learning about how systems operate to benefit those already in power, YLCs build youth capacity and motivation to improve their schools and communities. This study focused on BSACs – a type of YLCs supported by the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE).

Research Design and Methods: The researchers followed all BSAC participants for three years. In Year 1, they conducted two student surveys (fall and spring), interviews and focus groups (winter and spring), and observations (throughout the year), and requested school administrative data. In Years 2 and 3, the researchers recruited any new BSAC participants and continued with the same data collection schedule for both new and returning BSACs participants. In the final year, they pooled data from all three years to conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses.

Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there was no control condition.

Key Measures: The researchers collected both qualitative and survey data on BSAC participation; perceived support (a potential moderator); developmental competencies such as academic self-efficacy, self-management, and social skills; critical consciousness components (e.g., critical reflection and critical motivation); and school engagement. In addition, they developed and used interview data to assess the nature of BSAC implementation and adult capacity, considered to be possible moderating factors.

Data Analytic Strategy: At the end of each year, the researchers conducted descriptive analyses on survey data for each cohort and coded qualitative data for salient themes with input from BSAC participants and expert consultants. They used confirmatory factor analyses and structural equation modeling to validate survey items. The research team used qualitative data to enrich the psychometric analyses (e.g., how do high school students understand the construct of "leadership"?). The researchers used structural equation modeling to delineate relationships among YLC participation, developmental competencies, critical consciousness, and school engagement, and longitudinal growth modeling to explore the trajectories of YLC participants' outcomes over time. Finally, they conducted a mixed-methods study on this question, leveraging the insights provided by cross-lagged panel longitudinal models and rich qualitative evidence, in order to examine the developmental consequences of YLC participation.

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Select Publications:

Journal articles

Diemer, M. A., Frisby, M. B., Pinedo, A., Bardelli, E., Eliott, E., Wilkerson, E. M., McAlister, S., and Voight, A. M. (2022). Development of the Short Critical Consciousness Scale (ShoCCS). Applied Developmental Science, 26(3): 409–425.

Diemer, M. A., Pinedo, A., Banales, J., Mathews, C. J., Frisby, M. B., Harris, E. M., McAlister, S. (2021). (Re)centering Action in Critical Consciousness. Child Development Perspectives, 15(1): 12–17.