Skip to main content

Recap of Counter-Rally to Defend NYC Students and Teachers

statusAwesome poster, right? I take no credit. Give it all to the awesome student organizers in NYC.

On Thursday night, I had the great opportunity to defend NYC’s students and teachers with some incredible organizers from NYU and Columbia. The NYU and Columbia Students For Education Reform (SFER)‘s chapters organized a rally, “Get It Together: One Deal, $300 Million for NYC Students.”

From SFER’s Facebook Event Description:

Get It Together: One Deal, $300 Million for NYC Students

Rally with us on November 29th to demand an agreement and the $300 million our children were promised by the State government.

$300,000,000 – that’s how much money the New York City Department of Education and New York City United Federation of Teachers (UFT) will deny our kids if they don’t finalize their agreement on how teachers will be evaluated by early January.

The madness has to stop. Kids need to come first, even if it takes compromise.

To show your solidarity and help bring badly needed media attention to this important local issue, rally with us to demand an agreement and the $300 million our children were promised by the State government. Together, hundreds of NYC college and high school students will march from the UFT building to the steps of the DOE building, demanding that the adults make a deal for the kids. The march will be on Thursday, November 29th, at 6 pm.

We need your voice to join ours and say “Enough is enough – kids first!”

The postcard SFER e-mailed out the morning up rally

The postcard SFER e-mailed out the morning up rally

Counter-Rally’s Facebook Description:
Rally to Defend Students and Teachers

Today, attacks on teachers, their unions, and their ability to serve students come in all manner of disguises.

Students for Education Reform (SFER) NYU/Columbia claim that their rally on November 29th is about nothing more than securing funds for NYC schools. In fact, these funds are part of Obama’s Race to the Top program, which is designed to make public schools use more standardized tests to evaluate teachers and students. In effect, their goal is to get New York teachers to agree to an assessment system in which 40% of a teacher’s assessment is based on standardized tests.

This means more standardized testing in schools, more teaching to the test, and less say for parents and students in whether a teacher is doing a good job.

It also means harsher classroom discipline to take care of ‘troublemakers’ that could drag other students’ scores down. While SFER claims to care about closing the racial achievement gap in education, they support policies that lead to more students of color ending up in the school to prison pipeline.

Finally, it means more money in the pockets of testing companies like Pearson. As part of the corporate reform movement, it’s no surprise that national SFER receives much of its backing from the same hedge fund one-percenters who crashed the economy in 2008.

New York students deserve real education reform. Money for classrooms shouldn’t come at the expense of students subjected to more testing. Stand up to the corporate reform movement! Join us for a counter-rally and speakout downtown this Thursday at 5:30 pm.

Sponsored by the NYU International Socialist Organization

Even after changing my recitation times on Thursday, I got into the city later than intended, so I didn’t get to meet with Alexis Morin (Co-Founder of SFER National) as planned. Hopped on my 3:45 train, spilled coffee on myself like the elegant young woman I am, and my first ride on the subway alone was a mess (never a dull time with me, I swear).

Tweet 1

But good ol’ extremely amazing Paul Heideman from Rutgers-Camden who initially told me about the event, continued to keep me posted as I tried to not have a panic attack in the middle of Downtown Manhattan.

Tweet 11

About 15 minutes later, finally found my folks. Beautiful, no?


And across the street in front of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)’s Headquarters:


photo (1)

At one point there was a rally battle between us, so that was pretty neat.


SFER in front of UFT’s HQ

Paul Heideman

Photo Credit: NYU Local – NYU & Columbia Students Rally For $300 Million, Spur Counter-Protest & Cohesion [PHOTOS]

Counter-Rally 11/29/12

One of the greatest things that happened on our end was the amount of people who stopped by to ask what was going on. They were curious why a counter-rally was there. And I know many want to beat us down and claim our small group was pointless, but these important conversations–even if just a few–are clear evidence it wasn’t. Another hero of public education and our students made a great comment on the photo:


Yet, from what I found, some of these people already knew the type of agenda SFER was pushing for. The second we mentioned “Race to the Top,” and heard the term “education reform” at the end of their organization’s name, they rolled their eyes or responded, “You’re joking, right?” Another person asked, “So, like another StudentsFirst?” And another woman talking to us shouted across the street, “YOU’RE BEING BOUGHT OUT BY THE KOCH BROTHERS.”  She also asked, “Did they really spend money on rally hats? I wonder why they didn’t give that money to help the schools they say they’re advocating for.”

In case you were curious, EduShyster who was following the rally on Twitter tweeted this out to me:


We continued to chant:

“Reformers! Get off it! Our schools are not for profit!” 


“Money for public education, not for testing corporations!”


“1 we stand with teachers, 2 a little bit louder, 3 we’re gonna stop the privatizers!”


“Students and teachers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”


“Hey ho-ho high-stakes testing has got to go!”

Then, SFER was off to the Department of Education (DOE). We were allowed to follow, but cops told us were not allowed past them. Mind my un-professionalism slip in this tweet, haha.


But a few of us asked, well how will they know if we’re not with them? So a Columbia student I met that night, George Joseph, and I just walked on past them as if we were SFER-ers. That was fun. I really liked the confused faces when we started throwing in our chants while we were beside them. At one point we were able to get right in front of them:

George's poster reads: Un otro mundo es postble. Translation: Another world is possible

George’s poster reads: Un otro mundo es postble. Translation: Another world is possible

SFER’s cops made us leave, and they continued to march:

Source: NYU Local (Click through for original article)

Photo Credit: NYU Local – NYU & Columbia Students Rally For $300 Million, Spur Counter-Protest & Cohesion [PHOTOS]


Photo Credit: NYU Local (Click through for original article)

Photo Credit: NYU Local – NYU & Columbia Students Rally For $300 Million, Spur Counter-Protest & Cohesion [PHOTOS]

During this march we were even able to throw in some counter-chants.

SFER chanted: ”Let’s keep it real! The kids need a deal!”  We responded to their “let’s keep it real” with “Testing’s a raw deal!” And, SFER chanted: “Let me see you compromise,” we responded, “don’t believe reformers’ lies!”

Finally we got to NYC’s Department of Education, where we were set to stay on the side of the steps.

Photo Credit: Columbia Spectator (Click through for original article)

Photo Credit: Columbia Spectator (Click through for original article)

SFER Photo

Photo Credit: NYU Local – NYU & Columbia Students Rally For $300 Million, Spur Counter-Protest & Cohesion [PHOTOS]

Again, we had a couple spectators stop by and ask us what it was all about. Guess that’s the plus side of not being surrounded by so many cops, spectators had a chance to talk to us first. We had 3 local high school students ask us what it was all about. We explained to them SFER’s position and what they were advocating for, but presenting how it would lead to more harm than good. At the end Alexis and the program director came up to say hi and introduce themselves. Another SFER supporter–a student from a charter school–came up to me to ask why we were counter rallying them. That was nice.

Towards the end, with my phone dead and all, myself and the other counter-ralliers debriefed for a while. Although we definitely would have loved a bigger turnout, it was good we at least made our presence known. And much like what University of Wisconsin-Madison did at SFER’s Panel, we are bringing attention to the agenda behind SFER. And attention is where it all starts, just planting that little seed of doubt is all it takes sometimes (I mean, that’s where it all started for me!).

One of the biggest things I told them was how grateful I was to be with them tonight. I mentioned how in August with my most controversial blog post about SFER, there was only 1 or 2 other students who really believed SFER was problematic. And now, 3 months later, here I was in person with students right in the tri-state area who are fighting the same fight. There’s something unique and extremely empowering about that, reminds me that I’m not in this battle alone, and that we will save our students and our teachers.

OK — Now that I’ve covered the side of the rally I know no one else would have, now it’s time to respond to these articles that are floating around the web about the rally.

From NYU Local: NYU & Columbia Students Rally for $300 Million, Spur Counter-Protest & Cohesion:

  • “Behind them, a yelling match broke out between the two parties over voluminous chants. The opposing side, though lacking in number compared to SFER’s turnout, aimed its attention at the SFER national organization, highlighting accusations of corporate ties and misleading information about how the $300 million would be spent.”Doubtful about SFER’s Corporate ties? Check this out.Even 17-year-old, Nikhil Goyal recognizes it: In terms of funding, Education Reform Now gave SFER and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst—or as I like to call it StudentsLast—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 literally being bought out. [Click for full article]
  • “Paul Heideman, argued that the “$300 million would help implement No Child Left Behind.”Actually, Paul made no comments about NCLB in his interview. His response to the article: Wow, this is truly abysmal reporting. I didn’t even *mention* No Child Left Behind in my comments, much less say that RTTT money would be spent implementing NCLB. I realize education policy is very complicated, and can confuse inexperienced reporters, but this is really ridiculous.
  • “The opposing side, though lacking in number compared to SFER’s turnout, aimed its attention at the SFER national organization…”A commentor who I don’t know, Nisha Bolsey, took the words right out my mouth: It seems clear that the counter-protestors, in their (here grossly misrepresented) statements, chants, and signs, were not targeting SFER national, but the specific politics of NYU/Columbia’s “$300 million deal” campaign. The $300 million deal SFER is calling on the city and teachers to secure is Race to the Top money, which requires that states and, subsequently, districts, impose high-stakes testing and favor the expansion of charter schools. SFER NYU, by calling on this deal to be made, is necessarily calling for a contract that heavily bases NYC teacher evaluations on student test scores. How protesting this deal directly could be portrayed as protesting SFER national doesn’t make any sense to me, this specific SFER branch was clearly in support of this deal…

From Columbia Spectator Students lead protest of Department of Education’s inaction:

  • “There was one child talking about how he needed money in his art class and it was something that manifested itself every day in his life and he knows that we can do better, and he was there with his own handmade sign—it was just beautiful,” Leah Metcalf, BC ’14 and SFER’s general body chair, said. You know, this makes me upset more than anything. I wonder if they told this child the other side of this $300 million deal. I wonder how he would feel if he knew that money was going to put him and his classmates through more standardized testing. Our youth deserve better. Our youth deserve to be approached with honesty. I believe art is something that means a great deal to him, as it means a lot to many of our youth, so why push for a “compromise” that pushes for the complete opposite?
  • Across the street from the protest’s starting point at the UFT building in Lower Manhattan, members of Student Worker Solidarity began a counterprotest. Wrong. We were students from all over. We were not one specific group.
  • George said he and his fellow protesters believe that making teacher evaluations more reliant on standardized testing could adversely affect teachers’ job security in low-income areas, where test scores are lower. But the SFER protest far outnumbered the counterprotest. Responding to George’s argument based off facts with the amount of people who attended each protest? Ugh.SFER members, please, please, if anything, please just do your research before you start advocating for anything. Don’t just believe something is true and right because everyone else, or those “above you” are saying it’s so. Question everything–everything. I believe in your intentions, but do it with caution, your intentions to help the youth of your city will go much farther when you’re acting on your accord rather than just being someone’s puppet.
  • Researchers at Arizona State University demonstrate inaccuracy of Value  Added Measures (VAM)
  • Dr. Bruce Baker from Rutgers Graduate School of Education’s take on teacher evals & standardized testing.
  • Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk

Related articles:

This blog post has been shared by permission from the author.
Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.
Find the original post here:

The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Stephanie Rivera

Stephanie Rivera is a student at Rutgers University. She is a future teacher and educational equity activist. ...