Penn State

Consortium forSocial Movements and Education
Research and Practice

Dana L. Mitra

Dana L. Mitra

Dana Mitra

Professional Bio

Dana L. Mitra is founding editor of the International Journal of Student Voice and Co-Editor of The American Journal of Education. Dana has published over 40 papers on the topics of student voice and civic engagement. She has a forthcoming with Teacher’s College Press entitled The Empowered Professor: Breaking the Unspoken Codes of Inequity in Academia. The second edition of her textbook—Educational Change and the Political Process will be published at the end of 2021 with Routledge. Previously books include Civic Education in the Elementary Grades: Promoting Engagement in an Era of Accountability and Student voice in school reform: Building youth-adult partnerships that strengthen schools and empower youth.

Research Interests

Student Voice, Civic Engagement, Youth Activism, Equity in the Academy

Related Materials

Our Research

Mitra, D. L. (2017). Educational change and the political process. Routledge.

Educational Change and the Political Process brings together key ideas on both the system of educational policy and the policy process in the United States. It provides students with a broad, methodical understanding of educational policy. No other textbook offers as comprehensive a view of the U.S. educational policy procedure and political systems.

Section I discusses the actors and systems that create and implement policy on both the federal and the local level; Section II walks students through the policy process from idea to implementation to evaluation; and Section III delves into three major forces driving the creation of educational policies in the current era—accountability, equity, and market-driven reforms.

Each chapter provides case studies, discussion questions, and classroom activities to scaffold learning, as well as a bibliography for further reading to deepen exploration of these topics.

Our Research

Mitra, D., & McCormick, P. (2017). Ethical dilemmas of youth participatory action research in a democratic setting. International Journal of Inclusive Education21(3), 248-258.

This article discusses ethical issues involved in facilitating the research of young people on controversial issues. This article considers the potential ethical dilemmas of teachers facilitating a particular form of activism – youth participatory action research (YPAR). We consider how teachers foster school-wide conversations on difficult issues and support students who wish to take a critical stand on issues of race, class and gender. The article also discusses how to scaffold the exploration of topics that require emotional maturity and might lead to shifts in beliefs that run counter to the values of one’s family.

Biddle, C., & Mitra, D. (2015). Implementing middle school youth-adult partnerships: A study of two programs focused on social change. Middle Grades Review1(2), 6.

Youth-adult partnerships position youth and adults in roles of equal leadership of initiatives in their schools and communities, supporting a dynamic that runs counter to traditional patterns of youth-adult interaction. This article describes the piloting of two youth-adult partnership programs aimed at supporting the development of such relationships with different core foci at the middle grades level – one on community health and the other on school pedagogical change. In comparing the challenges and opportunities of implementing these programs in the middle grades environment, we find that while youth participants perceived positive developmental outcomes as a result of their participation, adults observed difficulties in supporting the implementation of these initiatives when the goal was cultural or social change. We discuss the implications of this finding, both in terms of examining how middle grade student voice is limited and delimited, as well as suggesting opportunities to better support student-directed efforts to address inequity in their schools and communities.

Our Research

Mitra, D., Serriere, S., & Kirshner, B. (2014). Youth participation in US contexts: Student voice without a national mandate. Children & Society28(4), 292-304.

Unlike the United Kingdom and other nations that mandate youth participation to some degree, U.S. policies instead tend to inhibit child participation rather than encourage it. Given these policy contexts, it can be challenging to locate spaces where robust opportunities for democratic participation and student voice exist. We use this article as an opportunity to examine the disciplinary, philosophical and methodological approaches that have framed youth participation in youth contexts. We conclude by identifying critical issues of citizenship and belonging that must be considered in participatory research.

Using urban regime theory, the article examines two Rust Belt cities that tried to break the cycle of social reproduction in their communities by reforming their schools. The article contributes to the development of urban regime theory by comparing an emerging regime to an established regime. The comparison highlights the interdependent nature of regimes’ engagement, purpose, and civic capacity.

Stephanie Serriere, Dana Mitra, Jennifer Cody
Our Research
Months of civic action began from something as ordinary as the pre-made school salad. At Park Forest Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania, the daily lunch salad was served with ham, croutons, and cheese. Three fifth grade girls at Forest Park believed this salad didn't serve their health or religious needs. One girl, Anika, could not eat the salad because she was lactose-intolerant.1 Sana, whose family is from United Arab Emirates, was a vegetarian because of her Muslim background. Another girl, Olivia, couldn't eat the meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent because of her religious beliefs as an Orthodox Christian. The three wanted to eat salad, but initially found the cafeteria workers could not serve it in any different form for them. They brought their issue to their teacher, Ms. Cody, and from there began a journey of student voice and activism.

Mitra, D. L. (2008). Student voice in school reform: Building youth-adult partnerships that strengthen schools and empower youth. Suny Press.

High schools continue to be places that isolate, alienate, and disengage students. But what would happen if students were viewed as part of the solution in schools rather than part of the problem? This book examines the emergence of "student voice" at one high school in the San Francisco Bay area where educators went straight to the source and asked the students to help.

Struggling, like many high schools, with how to improve student outcomes, educators at Whitman High School decided to invite students to participate in the reform process. Dana L. Mitra describes the evolution of student voice at Whitman, showing that the students enthusiastically created partnerships with teachers and administrators, engaged in meaningful discussion about why so many failed or dropped out, and partnered with teachers and principals to improve learning for themselves and their peers. In documenting the difference that student voice made, this book helps expand ideas of distributed leadership, professional learning communities, and collaboration. The book also contributes much needed research on what student voice initiatives look like in practice and provides powerful evidence of ways in which young people can increase their sense of agency and their sense of belonging in school.