11/22/2011 09:33 am ET Updated Jan 22, 2012

The Lesson that California Can Teach the Nation

California's education system certainly has a variety of problems -- and it will unfortunately face many more. With an already low spending-per-pupil ratio and an abysmal budget outlook, the future of my state's education system is very concerning.

But a few days ago I saw that California is on the right trajectory regarding at least one important aspect of education: student involvement in policy discussions. On November 5, students from throughout the state, as the Student Advisory Board on Education, gathered in Sacramento to begin discussions about the ways that their education system could be bettered. After five days, the students presented their proposals for change to the California State Board of Education. These proposals ranged from improving the standardized testing system to developing career awareness standards in frameworks.

For the two hours that I sat in the boardroom listening to the presentation of these proposals, I could not help but feel excited about what this meant.

Our education system should be based around students, the individuals who have the most to both gain and lose in our education system. Yet, instead, the system has been built around adults. Adults run the government. Adults run the classrooms. Adults run the unions. But this November, I saw that this was fortunately not always the case.

As the delegates of the Student Advisory Board on Education spoke and received a positive response from the members of the State Board of Education and State Superintendent, I realized that in California, our political leaders are willing to listen to the perspectives of the 6.2 million Californian students. They may not always agree with the student voice, but they are willing to hear it. Some other states have systems like California's. Massachusetts operates the State Student Advisory Council to advise the Massachusetts Board of Education. The Virginia Student Advisory Committee advises Virginia's state board, too.

I believe that the federal government and other states have a lot to learn from California and the states that have implemented advisory committees. At a time when our society has a lot of choices to make when it comes to charter schools, teacher evaluation systems, and the redevelopment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the education system could use students' advice. The U.S. Department of Education should develop an advisory body made up of students from throughout the United States. Governors and state commissioners of education should create student committees to advise them on relevant education policies, as well. Through the establishment of such bodies, policymakers would receive feedback from the people who know best about their education.

The students of this nation have a perspective and knowledge that could help solve some of education's largest problems. Now it's up to the adults to listen.