Students For Education Reform? Not the Change We Need
Don't think for a second that SFER represents the voice of students.
It all began in early August of this year. Stephanie Rivera, a student at Rutgers University and future teacher, published a gutsy, investigative piece uncovering the lunacy behind Students for Education Reform, an organization founded by two Princeton students, Catharine Bellinger and Alexis Morin. I highly suggest you read it yourself, but the commentary struck a profound chord with me for a number of reasons.
SFER has rolled out its corporate reform agenda onto over a hundred college campuses across the nation, which includes defending the takeover of public schools by charters and teacher evaluation systems that tie salaries to test scores. Don't believe me? Bellinger and Morin, marionettes of the likes of Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and Eli Broad, are now forcing some chapters to sign onto agreements that they carry out the mission of SFER—this was, not surprisingly, uncovered by Rivera.
SFER's primary mission is to close the achievement gap, but as education historian Camika Royal writes (referring to those who generally use the term), the organization only "speaks of academic outcomes, not the conditions that led to those outcomes, nor does it acknowledge that the outcomes are a consequence of those conditions." Where do they address on their site the putrid effects of poverty on schooling? They don't.
As journalist Dana Goldstein writes,
"…No school can find decent jobs for under- or unemployed parents who can’t put nutritious food on the table; nor can a school make up for the chronic instability of a young life spent in foster care or moving from apartment to apartment in a futile quest for safe, affordable housing. Volumes of research show such experiences affect cognitive development and children’s ability to focus in school; dedicated educators and counselors work wonders with such children each day, but they don’t rescue neighborhoods from poverty."In terms of funding, Education Reform Now gave SFER and Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst over $1.6 million in 2010. Remember, this is an organization whose PAC is DFER, a group bankrolled by Wall Street hedge-fund titans, moguls, and a number of billionaires. That's not to mention that SFER's board members include evangelists of KIPP and Teach for America. Many of these college students do not realize they are being bought out.
When I was in the beginning stages of researching my book, Morin contacted me for a brief conversation and I agreed to speak with her. I recall that she particularly discussed SFER along with the "successes" of the New York City public school system, and said that Mayor Bloomberg had made significant progress. I was flabbergasted. After the conversation Morin, sent me a piece written by Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. I kept my unease to myself, but then three months ago Rivera's piece was published, validating my concerns.
That same day I was banned from posting on SFER’s Facebook page. All I wrote was, "Don’t get tricked by SFER tactics! It promotes a corporate agenda! It's hurting millions of kids around the country," and I included a link to Rivera's post." Oh well.
A question I'd like to ask is: What is in the water at Princeton University? Two epitomes of failure in educational change—first Teach for America and now Students for Education Reform. Please, make it stop.
Educators, administrators, parents, I beg for you to not think for a second that SFER represents the voice of students. It doesn't. It is instead a mob of baby sheep, educated in obedience and submission, kowtowing to the forces that seek to obliterate public education. As a student, it's shameful and degrading watching these delinquents bash the very people who educated them, call for evaluations that reduce children to numbers, and allow for corporations and billionaires to wither away our democracy. It's a national disgrace.
Longtime teacher Susan Ohanian put it beautifully, "Either you join the revolution or you stand against the needs of children, and you aid the destruction of your own profession, not to mention democracy.” Wake the hell up, America.
Wooden chair and blackboard photo via ShutterstockThis article was updated on 01/05/2021.