“Empowering students to advocate for change.”
It’s as if this organization was made just for me–just read my headline! If you take a few seconds to search around my blog documenting my vision, my involvement with students through mentoring and being a teachers assistant, my aspiration to be a future teacher, and restless dedication to elevating the student voice, it is no doubt I have full faith in the students’ role in education policy.
As my blog was born out of my realizations of the inequalities in our education system, then continued further as I wanted to expose these silenced truths, this blog took me so far to revolutionizing my life. There is a never ending thirst for truth and knowledge, and the paramount responsibility I feel to share transparency for the sake of students’ futures.
I have a passion for the human capacity and potential, which is why I aim to be an educator who provides such opportunities for my future students. Which is why I fight hard against the push for more standardized tests, and teacher-evals that claim teacher effectiveness can be determined by a number. As I’ve stated multiple times before, “I want to leave this world knowing I did whatever I could to make the term “at-risk” one that is not so commonly associated with the term ‘school.'”
I have a restless drive for educational equity, which is why I stand against Students For Education Reform.
Students for Education Reform claim they have the theory to “close the gap.”
Pieces from their “What We Do” segment of their website:
1. High expectations
2. We believe that parents and students should be able to select excellent schools that enable students to become active, informed citizens… (emphasis my own)
3. We believe that great teachers and leaders are central to a thriving school, and as students, we value our teachers enormously…
4. Rigorous standards and meaningful assessment… (emphasis my own)
5. Fiscal transparency and accountability
“Why Target State Policies?
…Until we change restrictive state policies and create a system that empowers teachers and leaders, raises standards, and holds schools accountable for student learning, we’ll never have a nationwide system of schools like KIPP and others. (Emphasis my own)
…In each state we enter, we hire a full-time state program director who works relentlessly to recruit new chapter leaders, support their work, and help lift up student voices across the state
If one is not familiar with the reasons why I emphasized certain points, it is no doubt that their mission and goals could be easily perceived as flawless, which is why I’m creating this post.
SFER wants to create more schools like KIPP. For those unfamiliar with KIPP, KIPP is one of the largest Charter School chains. There are various views on KIPP, some students are calling it, “Kids In Prison Program,” and some don’t think KIPP stands up to its reputation. Just take a look at what students are saying on Twitter:
While on the other hand, one person asks on reddit, “Why all the hate for KIPP?” Even some students point out some good points about KIPP:
Well, it is evident where one of their main concerns lie. So who is proposing these views? Is it really the students who developed this program? Let’s take a look at their leaders.
Frustrated with the pace of educational change, Bellinger and Morin started Students for Education Reform (SFER) while they were undergraduates at Princeton in 2009. They set out to mobilize college students and get them to advocate for education reform in the voting booth and in state capitols. SFER has obviously tapped into something potent because the organization has grown to 71 chapters in 28 states.
SFER is growing so fast that Bellinger and Morin have, ironically, put their own education on hold so they can work full-time on it heading into 2012.
Why be questionable? The Assailed Teacher puts it perfectly. From his “Students for Education Reform and the War on Teachers” post:
Yes, I am sure they did this all on their own. This has nothing to do with all the hedge fund and Gates money pouring into every nook and cranny of the education system: school districts, political campaigns, unions, think tanks and teacher colleges. This has nothing to do with their professors who get generous grants with this money prodding them into creating astroturf organizations like SFER.
Yes, because normal college students from working families who are not being funded by a a billionaire apparatus have the luxury of “putting their education on hold” to go on political crusades.
Let’s dig a little deeper. We see who the on-screen leaders are, but could these two students be really funding this nation-wide organization all by themselves? As The Assailed Teacher pointed out, and I think any “regular” college student could agree, there is no way we have that kind of money to implement this strong of an org as much as we wish we could.
Thanks to Dave Russell (who is the teacher who led to my discovery of StudentsFirst’s true agenda), I always, always, always check to see who is funding programs\organizations. Why? The one in control of the money is the one who is controlling the org, because clearly, it wouldn’t exist without the funds. I think it’s safe to say the ones working for the one with all the money aren’t going to try anything to go against it. Even further, what are these corporate leaders’ experience with the education system? Have they sat through as many education courses as the teachers they are attacking have? Have they spent longer than the 2-years that Teach For America assigns their teachers they throw into classrooms to “close the gap?” Has their 5 weeks in training really made them an expert on what students want and need, and how to solve the inequalities in our current education system?
One analogy I love to use is, you wouldn’t want a chef as your surgeon, right? He or she may do a phenomenal job at cooking your dinner, but open-heart surgery isn’t this person’s profession.
So let’s see for ourselves.
SFER’s partners according to their website:
The two that stand out to me are “Teach for America” and “Stand for Children.” As I mentioned above, you already know how I feel about TFA (in short, I will never, ever believe that 5 weeks is enough for teacher preparation, especially in under-served districts). And you can read about how Stand for Children doesn’t stand for children by a former member and by Diane Ravitch.
In addition, their board members include:
And according to their website:
“Our board members provide guidance each step of the way”
Well that’s reassuring.
So how strong is this particular “student voice?”
They already have chapters in 28 states, schools including: Princeton, University of Maryland – College Park, Stanford, Yale, George Washington University, Georgetown University, University of Florida, University of Miami, Northwestern University, Boston University, Wake Forest, Duke, Dartmouth, Rutgers (Ah!), Columbia, Cornell, NYU, Syracuse, UPenn, Brown, Temple, and many more.
I’ve addressed these specific points because each of these elements are fighting AGAINST equal opportunity to a quality education. Students For Education Reform are promoting and being funded by those who believe that “choice” of a good school is the best direction to go in order to “save our education.” When really we should collectively be working together to assure each and every public school in the United States is one that guarantees and provides quality education, making the need for “choice of schools” not even necessary. Receiving a quality education should not, under any circumstances, depend on luck, period. Instead of putting money where our education system needs it most, it is being flooded into astroturf corporation education groups such as SFER.
It is critical, now more than ever, to expose Students For Education Reform. We need to reach students across the country to give them the proper knowledge of what they are supporting.
Student voices at SFER are clearly being funded by money us “regular” students do not have access to, they can easily outrace us into getting more student support. That is why the only way we can beat them is by reducing and preventing student support by giving them the correct information–fast. Without support, SFER cannot exist. I can only hope that you see the detrimental forces SFER can have on ever achieving equal education.
They have the money, but we have the potential to have all the numbers.
For the sake of our education system, the direction it is going, and ultimately the fate of students’ futures, do not let these reformers use misinformed students as their puppets to fool you. I cannot speak for SFER students, but I can speak for myself. There is a difference when you organize together as students with an internal passion to create something truly “student-led” rather than one that just looks and seems good because there are big-corp names involved. Do not play their games.
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Update 11\10 - I’m realizing that recently there has been a lot more traffic to this post than usual. Here are my updates after this post and a few others’ responses. In these updated posts you will find how SFER made changes to their websites after this post, how program directors wanted to meet with me, how someone posted this article on 4chan to get “trolls” to start commenting, and how one student started a campaign “Why I SFER” at his university.
- August 7 - “Get ready to get stomped on.”
- August 8 – SFER Post: 3 Days After
- August 9 – My meeting with SFER Program Directors
- August 21 – Update on SFER
- August 31 – My post about SFER on @TheChalkFace
- October 10 – More Students Questioning SFER’s Principles
- November 5 – An SFER Chapter That Gives Me Hope
- Diane Ravitch’s responses to my post
- Dr. Bruce Baker’s take on some of SFER’s claims: Still Searching for Miracle Schools and Superguy: Updates on Houston and New York City
Update 11\27: The alternative has been formed! Check it out: Students United for Public Education