How $tudent$ 4 Education Reform Jumped the Shark

RALLY SWAG—SFER activists from Columbia and NYU wore hats summing up their demand that city’s teachers hurry up and agree to be evaluated on the basis of their students’ test scores.

The crowd may not have been much, but as rallies go, this one was a big deal. Impassioned young people, bundled against the New York cold, risking everything for a cause they believe in, one that, if their voices are heard, could transform the lives of millions of poor Americans. I’m talking, of course, about the protest by fast food workers, who gathered in front of burger joints across the city  to raise a collective middle finger to an industry that pays crap wages and offers few opportunities for advancement. As for that OTHER rally in NYC this week, by students at Columbia and NYU who were demanding that teachers be evaluated on the basis of their students’ test scores, it was, well, meh…

Truth in advertising
The greasy eelishness that is at the heart of the $tudent$ For Economic Reform project was on vivid display this week. Watch this impassioned high school student speak at the SFER rally that followed a march on the local teachers union head quarters and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the SFER cause is more public school funding—the student thinks that’s SFER’s cause. (She certainly seems to have no idea of the toll that Reform Inc.’s mad luv 4 charters is taking on the city’s public schools). But the group’s actual demand, summed up in the hashtag printed on the knit hats they had specially produced for the occasion, was for teachers to hurry up already and agree to be evaluated on the basis of their students’ test scores: #300Mdeal. OMG teachers, like what is your problem? To add a final layer of special sauce to an already convoluted cause, SFER’s official position was that they had no official position on the deal—they just wanted the two sides to “get it together” for the kids, natch.

Hot standardized mess
Of course the reason why New York’s teachers aren’t marching behind SFER’s young activists is that the state’s new value-added model for evaluating teachers IS A DISASTER. In fact a new law requiring that 20-40% of a teacher’s evaluation be linked to test scores has proved so unpopular that it has triggered a major backlash, including this letter signed by hundreds of principals, among them, half of the principals on Long Island. But there’s also growing resistance to standardized testing among students, something that SFER seems weirdly oblivious to. Take off the knit hats and strip away the phony slogans and SFER is actually calling for standardized tests to count for more.

Students United for Public Education
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that SFER’s days are numbered. Oh sure, the checks from big “reform”-minded funders will continue to arrive at SFER’s Manhattan HQ, and rich uncle Education Reform Now will still pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues. (For more on ERN’s unique funding arrangement with SFER and cousin, Students First, see page 21 of this tax document). There will even be more gra$$root$ rallies and marches, and don’t forget the edu-swag! But just as SFER funder, the Walton Family Foundation, seeks to inject some much needed competition into our failing, union-stifled public education system, competition between student groups is good too. This week marked the debut of an actual grassroots student group: Students United for Public Education. What’s more, it has demands that actual students might actually support.

As Education Reform, Inc. lurches further and further to the right, and “choice” is increasingly revealed to be ¢hoi¢e, groups like SFER are going to have make a choice of their own. What do they really stand for???

What edu-demand would you like to see printed on a knit hat? Send your suggestions to


  1. I would like to know the costs of all the hats and the salaries that were paid for the private police force escorting them on their march. Who paid for that and what was the total amount? If DFER is so concerned about children and learning, they could have purchased books for a school library. But they are not…they are primarily focused on: busting unions, bashing teachers, privatizing schools and sucking from the public trough. Shame shame shame!

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