Exploring Youth Leadership Councils: Developmental Competencies, Critical Consciousness, and School and Civic Engagement
Co-Principal Investigators: Sara McAlister and Matthew Diemer (University of Michigan)
Purpose: The purpose of this mixed-methods study is 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 is 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 will 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 will survey, interview, and observe high school students in New York City (NYC) who participate in YLCs overseen by the NYC Department of Education. They will use 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 YLCs that are associated with student developmental competencies, critical consciousness, and engagement in school.
Products: Researchers will produce preliminary evidence of a potentially promising practice, youth leadership councils (YLCs), to support high school student's developmental competencies and critical consciousness, and whether these in turn foster greater school and civic engagement and academic achievement. The research team will also produce peer-reviewed publications.
Setting: This study will take place in New York City.
Sample: Approximately 400 to 500 high school students will participate in youth leadership councils overseen by the NYC Department of Education, with most students beginning in their 10th grade year. There is no minimal level of academic achievement required for participation; instead most students are recommended by teachers and administrators based on strong leadership skills.
Intervention: Youth leadership councils 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 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 focuses on YLCs supported by the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE). Roughly half of the student members of each NYC DOE YLC will also participate in a youth leadership academy, an intensive training program for high school students on community- and leadership-building activities.
Research Design and Methods: The researchers will follow all YLC participants for three years. In Year1, they will conduct two student surveys (fall and spring), interviews (winter), and observations (throughout the year), and will request school administrative data. In Years 2 and 3, the researchers will recruit any new YLC participants and continue with the same data collection schedule for both new and returning YLC participants. In the final year, they will pool data from all three years to conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses.
Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there is no control condition.
Key Measures: The researchers will collect both qualitative and survey data on YLC 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 will develop an observation rubric and use interview data to assess the quality of YLC implementation and adult capacity, considered to be possible moderating factors.
Data Analytic Strategy: At the end of each year, the researchers will conduct descriptive analyses on survey and administrative data for each cohort, and code qualitative data for salient themes with input from YLC participants and expert consultants. They will use confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) and structural equation modeling to validate survey items. The research team will use qualitative data to enrich the psychometric analyses (e.g., how do high school students understand the construct of “leadership”?). The researchers will use 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. They will also compare trajectories of those who do and do not participate in the targeted leadership development program in addition to their YLC participation to understand the relationship between targeted leadership development and student outcomes over and above participation in a YLC.