$tudent$ for Education Reform

Members of Connecticut chapters of Students for Education Reform. $FER spent more than $15,000 to bus 60 members to a rally in support of CT Governor Malloy’s education reform bill.

Reader, today we revisit what has become perhaps my very phavorite rephorm group: Students for Education Reform. As you are no doubt aware, students are on the march from Chile, where they are demanding equal access to higher education, to Quebec, where striking students recently brought down the government for proposing a $325 PER YEAR tuition hike.You’ll be happy to know that US students are demanding education reform too, but alas it is of a somewhat different variety. Students for Education reform or $FER now has more than 100 chapters on campuses across the country, all focused on enacting what can only be described as Daddy’s education agenda: a mishmash of achievement gap fever, anti-unionrhetoric, and edu-jargon intoxicating enough to make even an Ivy Leaguer—especially an Ivy Leaguer—swoon.

There is nothing about $FER’s story that isn’t miraculous. Just over a year old, $FER already boasts a headquarters in a Manhattan office building, seven full-time staffers and an all-star board of rephorm titans, including the chief growth officer for KIPP, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital, and a director of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.If the latter seems weird and inappropriate to you given that nothing reduces a kid’s chance of going to college faster than an accidental drug overdose, someone at $FER seems to agree; the group recently scrubbed any mention of Jonathan Sackler’s tie to Purdue, which his family owns, from their website. Click here to see a gratuitous image of the mansion where Mr. Sackler relaxes when he is not rephorming education.

Anyway, enough about $FER’s improbable back story, what rephormy goodness are they up to now? Alas, with any corporate entity grassroots movement, the “scale-up phase” has not been without a few growing pains. As my favorite edu-blogger, Stephanie Rivera, a teacher-in-training at Rutgers documents, a growing number of $FER chapters are expressing discomfort with a new evaluation process and a memorandum of understanding they were recently required to sign, agreeing to be “mission aligned.” Here’s a sample of said MOU that Stephanie uncovered. 

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)

Students for Education Reform, Inc. certainly sounds grassroots-y to me. Now if they’d just put down their hacky sacks and sticky icky long enough to get some real work done. Fortunately the $FER chapters at NYU and Columbia seem to have gotten the memo. While too many students in New York are frittering away their time volunteering in areas of the city still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, members of NYU and Columbia $FER have their priorities straight. They’re pressuring Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help the tens of thousands of NYC residents who are still struggling to immediately revamp the city’s teacher evaluation system so as to qualify for Race to the Top Money.

In this outstanding article in the NYU newspaper, the goal of the $FER activists is described as “afflicting change in the classroom.” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. The grassroot-sters are planning a rally for 11/29 that they hope will attract hundreds of students. They even have a groovy slogan:  “Get It Together, $300 Million, One Deal.”

It has a certain ring to it but surely our $FER friends deserve a better slogan than that. How about: “Let the might waters of education reform continue to rise,” or my personal favorite: “Pawns of Billionaires?

What do you think $FER’s new slogan should be? Write to tips@edushyster.com

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EduShyster is Jennifer C. Berkshire, who has spent the past six years writing about public education and urban schools in Massachusetts.