A few of my previous posts that will help better the understanding of this post:
- I am a student, and I stand against Students For Education Reform (SFER)
- “Get ready to get stomped on.”
- SFER Post: 3 Days After
- Meeting with SFER Program Directors
- A new perspective from a current SFER member
- More Students Questioning SFER’s Principles
- Must Read: Students from UW-Madison Report on SFER
As many know, I am always open for dialogue, especially those with opposing viewpoints.
The great thing about hearing the “other side” is what people are willing to share with you. Often times it’s what you expect to hear, but if you start listening to enough different people, you’ll find that one who surprises you.
That happened this past week.
I had a couple phone calls with some SFER members and chapter leaders–I believe this puts it up to a total of 8 SFER members from different chapters that I have spoken to. I have another one scheduled next week. The one I will be referring to in this post isn’t the first one who told me they question the SFER National’s agenda.
I will not release the name of the member I spoke to, nor what chapter he\she is a part of under any circumstances whatsoever.
The main takeaway that I got from this particular phone call was understanding the difference between SFER National and its individual chapters. I have received so many responses in regards to their differences. In the past I stated I believe individual chapters have good intentions, but the national organization they are representing and working with is problematic.
Responses I’ve received:
“What are you talking about? When you attack SFER as a national organization, you attack the individual ones, too.”
“We may not believe everything that SFER National does, but on a whole, we do.”
“We are completely autonomous. They have no influence on us.”
For a very long time the lines that divided the SFER National and it’s individual chapters were so blurred. This member I spoke to helped clear it up for me.
Here are a few things that this member brought to my attention:
Please note that other information was shared, but was asked to be left completely out in order to protect himself\herself and his\her chapter.
- Chapter evaluations -Their particular chapter is concerned about what the evaluations are being used for. They suspect that the evaluations are being used as proof to corporate donors to show they are doing what they said they would–in other words, holding their end of the deal with donors in order to continue receiving donations. One example of information they must provide is the types of events the chapter held, and how many people attended Words from the member I spoke to:
- “As SFER has grown, we picked up more corporate donors, it’s easy to forget how and what your movements started with. It started with giving college students a voice in education policy, advocating that they should have a say, and even doubts in ed reform…But, with more donors, they have wanted more metrics. It’s easy to forget it should be about the students that are driving the movement…”
- “Evaluations should be used for professional development, seeing what we can improve on. I don’t think evaluations should be used on chapter grants.”
- He\She called the relationship between the chapters and the national organization a, “One sided relationship.” He\she stated that members of national org that are shaping their national policies never asked them for input.
- He\She doesn’t believe other SFER chapters are willing to be as critical of SFER National as their chapter is. He\she stated that more people would bring their concerns and issues to SFER National’s attention, or else they’ll never know that the issues exist.
- All chapters were recently required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to be “mission aligned.” He\she again stated his\her concern that not all views and opinions were represented on this MOU. He\she stated that as the national umbrella, they should be representing all student views, not just the views of corporate donors. He\She is concerned that policies they do not agree with are being disregarded. I asked him\her to tell me a little bit more about “mission aligned” because I was still a little confused. He\she said: “I’m equally just as confused. I think it just means that we are aligned with policy platform put forth on their website.”
- I did a Google search for “Mission Aligned SFER” and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s SFER Chapter’s Constitution came up that mentions “Mission Aligned”
- Article II- Affiliations
- Section 1: SFER UNC-CH affiliates with the national chapter of Students for Education Reform, Inc. and carries out the mission of Students for Education Reform, Inc. on the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Section 2: SFER UNC-CH should strive to embody the Students for Education Reform, Inc. Statement of Principles. (See Appendix A)
- Section 3: Students for Education Reform, Inc. will provide access to following to SFER UNC-CH: recruitment support, professional development for chapter leaders, financial support, brand identity, access to national contacts, and programming/alignment support.
- Section 4: Students for Education Reform-University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will work towards mission alignment by having senior chapter leaders sign onto the Students for Education Reform mission and Statement of Principles. (See Appendix A)
- And yes, the “Mission Aligned” is much like the policies listed on their website.
- He\She brought to my attention that the majority of the new chapters that were started this past year were by freshmen or sophomores. There was one instance when a freshman was hesitant in starting a chapter because she didn’t feel she knew enough about ed reform & ed policy to start a brand new organization on campus. She even suggested to SFER National that someone with more experience and understood the process started the chapter. Yet, she was eventually so pressured into doing it by SFER National that she eventually gave in and started the chapter.
- The person I spoke to also made a great point that many of us in upper level grades know that education reform is such a complex topic. Many of our current beliefs are not what we had when we were fresh out of high school. By recruiting freshmen to start a brand new chapter, it is most likely that student hasn’t had time to see all sides of the education reform debate. They have had minimal experience in the education reform discussion. Thus, by reaching out to younger students to lead these chapters, they are more likely to advocate the information SFER National is handing to them without critically thinking about them. As the person I spoke to on the phone said, “It’s a lot easier to trust what Catharine and Alexis tells them.” [Note - this is not the same as saying older = smarter, just bringing up the idea that understanding\seeing all sides of the debate, researching takes time.]
- Yes, we both recognize that there are other reasons for recruiting freshmen, but when it comes to a topic as serious as education and students, this shouldn’t be looked over
- He\She also brought up the point that the policies SFER often advocates for sounds good policy wise, but at the classroom level it’s a big risk. He\She stated that “there’s no point putting money into programs that are proven not successful to all.” (To put this statement into context, he\she was referring to vouchers).
- He\She believes that the policies on SFER’s website are too vague (Note- This is a common complaint by a few other SFER members I’ve spoken to. As well as students at other universities who have e-mailed me stating the vagueness of SFER automatically turns them off)
- Their particular chapter disagrees with policies SFER national advocates for
- His\Her Chapter’s stance on Unions: “Because we’re older, we had a lot more time to think about our opinions, and come out with our own ideas. The union is not the enemy. Teachers are not the enemy. A lot of freshmen come in believing that unions are evil, when that is not true. Some of the SFER chapters are falling so in line with that thought. If you were recruited as a freshmen, and someone is going to reinforce that in your mind, you’ll never have time to critically think how Unions are beneficial. Even myself when I was fresh out of high school, I believed Unions were the root of all evil—I even thought that was a unique view. When you take the time to do the research & be critical, what it means to say that we shouldn’t have teachers unions, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not fair to vilanize them. In one of my classes we were doing case studies, and there was on instance when teacher wanted to teach that using “gay” as a derogatory term was wrong. The child told the parent, and the parent called the school to complain. But, because the teacher was in a union, she was protected. Unions help teachers that are trying to do what’s right, they shouldn’t be afraid of losing their job when they want to do that.”
This is important to pay attention to because many claim that SFER is a “Union-bashing” organization. SFER National did seem to have a particular position in regards to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) during the time of their strike. There were also some concerns raised with individual chapters who were discussing CTU (see how students criticized the University of Wisconsin’s SFER Chapter’s panel on the strike).
- Merit Pay – His\Her chapter doesn’t believe merit-pay is sustainable. “At some point the money is going to dry-up, and all of the teachers originally in it for the money won’t want to teach anymore once it does. We don’t want to change the mind-set of teachers. We do believe teachers should get paid more across the board, because as a country we don’t value education or our teachers as much as we should.”
- His\Her Chapter’s Stance on Charter Schools: This particular chapter is against lifting the charter cap in his\her state. He\she stated that their state isn’t even at the charter cap now, so it makes no sense to lift it.This is important to take note of because it is implied in SFER’s principles that they believe in “school choice,” which is just another term for Charter Schools. Prior to my post in August, SFER actually had a statement in their principles that implied that our nation should strive to have more schools like KIPP (one of the largest chains of charter schools).In his\her words:
“The accountability isn’t there…it doesn’t make sense to open 100 new charter schools if doesn’t help all students. Yea there are a few high-performing charter schools, but that’s only a small percentage. If all the charter schools are not going to be high-performing, it’s a waste of time & tax-payers dollars, at the end of the day, charter schools are a band-aid for a seeping wound–it stops the bleeding for now while ignoring the bigger issue. Something larger is facing public education and we should be looking for permanent and effective solutions, because there are never going to have enough high-performing charter schools. We need to fix the underlining problem. We need to look at real solutions, how do we raise the achievement of minority students, the solutions aren’t going to be charter schools.”
- I asked him\her what is the purpose SFER National serves to their individual chapter. I questioned if they disagree with many of their policies, why do they still choose to stay associated with them?
- He\she stated, “Nothing, I honestly don’t see a point, aside from monitoring us. I can see how monitoring makes sense for new organizations, but other than that I don’t think we need them. We’ve asked them for money, they said no, we asked them to reach out to big-name people, they said no.” Like a previous SFER member I spoke to, he\she also brought up that because SFER has already made a name for itself, people are willing to listen and work with them. The popularity of the name has benefits.
Interesting perspective, no?
After our conversation, I have no doubt this particular chapter will continue to critically think about SFER National’s agenda. They have already done some great stuff that proves their authentic skepticism, but like I stated, I must respect his\her request to keep that information private.
So yes, there is ONE chapter out there that gives me hope. I can only hope that they will eventually publicly take a stand. To not only bring more critical attention to SFER National, but to make a stand that will speak volumes to all the other SFER chapters.
Time will only tell…
Also keep in mind that there are SFER members who are in support of a lot of what SFER National advocates for:
- From Ohio University SFER Chapter
- Why I SFER by Spencer Smith of Ohio University Chapter
- Why I SFER by Co-Chapter Leader Tayler Showalter
- Why I SFER by Chloe Gebacz, Jack of All Trades
- Why I SFER by Director of Advocacy Renée Hagerty
- Why I SFER by Membership Coordinator Dane Puterbaugh
- Why I SFER by Activities Coordinator Leah Horne
- From Connecticut SFER Chapter
- Why I SFER by Maayra Nieves
- From University of Maryland SFER Chapter
- Why I SFER |The Rational Reformer by Ryan Heisinger of University of Maryland Chapter
- From St. Olaf SFER Chapter