Jun 9, 2012

Close the US Education Quality Gap (By a faker)

Rheelink NOTE: This is NOT by Yong Zhao, but by Yukong Zhao. Was this intentionally misleading? I wonder.
Yukong Zhao is the Director of China Business Development of Siemens Energy Inc. Zhao is a father of two school-age children. They live in Orlando, Florida. (Note: This article only represents the personal viewpoints of Mr. Zhao, not those of his employer, Siemens Corporation.)

About two years ago, the National Bureau of Economic Research proclaimed the recession officially over in the summer of 2009.  But today, the US unemployment rate is still at 8.2%.  This high unemployment rate again illustrates our fragile economic recovery.  It also underscores the importance of closing our educational quality gap with high-performing economies.  Our economic troubles are rooted much deeper than just in the housing bubble before 2008. They are also largely attributed to rising global competition and declining US competitiveness, in particular educational quality.

In the middle 20th century, the US used to be the manufacturing center of the world, which created a robust and affluent middle class.  Starting in the 1970s, the US started to face global competition from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Mexico, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other emerging economies.  Over the last three decades, the US has lost 40%, about 8 million of its manufacturing jobs, partly due to global competition and partly due to productivity gain.  Moreover, in the last decade the advancement of telecommunication and information industries has created a borderless service platform. It leads to significant service job outsourcing: call centers, computer troubleshooting, etc., that exacerbate the loss of middle class jobs in the US.

We need to recognize that it is not viable for the US to regain most of these job back in particular those labor intensive ones. The right structural change for the US is to design and produce more products and services with high knowledge contents, such as iPhones, IT systems and engineering services. That is the only way for Americans to sustain and improve our living standard because these types of jobs create more value and are highly paid.

However, our educational problems are holding us back. Our public schools fail to produce students who are ready to compete in this global economy.  According to 2011 ACT test results, only one out of four participants (high school graduates) met four key benchmarks and is ready for college.  Internationally, U.S. students rank at the bottom of the pack in math when compared to their global peer and towards the middle of the pack in reading and science, far behind education leading countries including Shanghai, China, Finland, South Korea and Singapore.

In order to restore the American education leadership, it is essential for our policymakers, teachers and parents to understand and learn from the world’s leading nations in education.

Like many other first generation immigrants who have cross-culture educational experiences, I clearly appreciate strengths of the American education system but also see the urgency with which we need to make improvements in many critical areas.  It is imperative to close our educational quality gap with world’s leading nations in order to avoid economic decline.

Apr 5, 2012

Bringing Effective Teachers To Struggling Schools (Or, Yet Another Way To Ignore Poverty)

Rebecca Sibilia is the Director of Fiscal Strategy for StudentsFirst. She is a former state education Chief Financial Officer, and has worked with Congress, Venture Capital Funds, and community based organizations to create, fund and implement school choice programs.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) (hyperlinked to: http://ies.ed.gov/) released a new study today on the US Department of Education's Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI) implemented in five states. This was an important pilot program related to techniques that districts can use to bring effective teachers to traditionally hard to staff schools. In this program, seven districts within five states participated in a pilot that offered $20,000 over two years to the district's most highly effective teachers willing to transfer to its lowest performing schools. The figure below illustrates the hypotheses regarding the impact of the program:
The report has three critical findings:
  1. Pay-based incentives work to attract quality teachers to low performing schools;

  2. The incentive program provided additional experienced and effective educators to low-performing schools that had historically relied on first year teachers to fill over one-fifth of all open positions.; and

  3. These teachers were more likely to provide mentoring to other teachers in their new school.
All students deserve a highly effective teacher. This is why StudentsFirst strongly supports the use of pay-based incentives to reward qualified teachers, particularly those willing to take on additional responsibility, such as serving in hard-to-staff schools, or in hard-to-staff subjects. The fact that this program is found to be successful in that mission should be a lesson to policymakers and district administrators alike--elevating the teaching profession through teacher salary incentives can better equalize the quality of education for all of our students.

Stay tuned for the next phase of the report, which will study the student achievement results of the program!

Click here for the full report: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20124051/pdf/20124051.pdf

Mar 28, 2012

Laser Focus On Students (Or, We'll Focus On Something Else, Actually)

StudentsFirst member Percilla Ortega taught middle school in East Palo Alto, CA before pursuing her goal to educate some of our most underserved youth on a larger scale. To take on the challenge, she founded DesignED, which works to educate students trapped in the criminal justice system.

March 23, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Santa Clara County Board of Education Superintendent Charles Weis, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee hosted a discussion on education in San Jose as a part of the California Listening Tour - jointly sponsored by the California Mayors Education Roundtable and StudentsFirst.

The hosts began the night by describing the current state of education:
  •     Superintendent Weis described the dire need for innovation in Santa Clara County to ensure all students receive the education they deserve.
  •     Mayor Johnson described the urgency of reforming education to prepare our students to compete in a global economy, as California educates one out of every eight students in the nation.
  •     Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Rhee emphasized the level of expectations needed to put students first and reminded the community of her level of relentless commitment to transform the life trajectories of our students currently victimized by the atrocious achievement gap.
Michelle Rhee's laser focus on students - the idea that every decision and every policy must focus on what is best for the student - provided a clarifying framework for the discussion. The audience raised many topics including effective teacher retention, the importance of the social and emotional aspects of a student's development, and parent engagement. Rhee's responses demanded systematic change, requiring a need for a national movement to both close the achievement gap and to just always put students first regardless of their educational opportunities. Listening to Rhee engage with our community of students, parents, educators, politicians, and stakeholders reminded me of a quote: "Its not about what ideas and values you stand for. It's about where you stand and who you stand with." We all value excellent schools, but we must stand with the student and push for their interests as the primary focus.

Rhee inspired me to disregard the politics involved in the education reform debate and even within my own professional focus -- to educate the most underserved students in our country. I will keep Rhee's resilience as a reformer close to heart because, "Change becomes necessary when your present condition is unacceptable."

Mar 21, 2012

Examining Effective School Leadership (Or, We Still Think Poverty Is An Excuse, But Now At Least We Are Admitting Leadership Sucks)

Nithya Joseph was program analyst and manager in Washington, DC government before joining StudentsFirst over a year ago. In her current role at StudentsFirst, she is a senior policy analyst and writer.
Bookstores are full of texts about effective leadership and biographies of legendary leaders. This is no surprise - effective leadership is key to any successful organization; and schools are no exception.

Anecdotally, there is no end to the stories an educator or a parent can recount about the impacts, both negative and positive, a principal has on a school, its students, its culture, and its entire staff. We rarely see a great school without a great principal. But while there is a wealth of studies on the importance of teacher quality, until recently there has been very little written about the impact of principal quality.

Recently, researchers Gregory Branch, Eric Hanushek, and Steven Rivkin, released a working paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research, which looks into the impact of principal effectiveness on schools. Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals presents three main findings that provide important implications for policy-makers.

A few quick highlights of the findings include:

Trends in teachers exiting a school are related to principal quality.
  • Teachers have a higher transition rate in schools with the least effective principals, no matter the level of school poverty.

  • More effective teachers tend to stay at schools led by high quality principals.

  • There are large levels of teacher turnover in grades with low levels of student achievement, when    there is a high quality principal.

In the highest poverty schools, both higher and lower quality principals are more likely to exit.
  • Many lower quality principals who leave positions at high-poverty schools transition to other schools.

  • The majority of high quality principals who leave high-poverty schools leave the profession altogether.
These findings have important policy implications. First, high quality principals are able to retain effective teachers. Principals should be evaluated on both their ability to raise student achievement across the school, but also their ability to attract, develop, and retain effective teachers.

Second, we must put into place programs to retain high quality principals at high poverty schools. Principals should be rewarded based on their effectiveness – their ability to develop and retain effective teachers and to raise student achievement.

Third, principal evaluations must identify and support ineffective principals. The research shows that while ineffective principals have a high turnover rate at high poverty schools, they are likely to move to another high poverty school. We have to stop this cycle of ineffective leadership.

Lastly, the findings support the argument that principals should have real decision-making power over the hiring and placement decisions of their teaching staff. High quality principals move ineffective teachers out of their schools. If we want more effective leaders, we need to give them the decision-making power to build their own effective teaching teams.

Principals, just like teachers, are critical to student success; they are equally as essential to their school and teachers’ success. High quality principals have the potential to transform schools and communities. Let’s advocate for policies that will identify, retain, reward, and empower these leaders.

Click here to read the StudentsFirst Policy Agenda on Evaluating Principal.

Mar 20, 2012

What about principals? (Or, Let Me Make Some Unsupported Claims)

Michelle Jahnke is a 2011-12 StudentsFirst Teacher Fellow. She has taught for 25 years in a rural school district at the elementary, middle school and high school level and has focused on at-risk learners. She is now Dean of Students at a high school.

A conversation about school reform inevitably leads to a discussion regarding the importance of effective teachers. Research finds what many intuitively know -- that the teacher is the most important in-school factor in ensuring student learning. However, what is often not discussed is the role of an effective principal in relation to student achievement.

As an educator of twenty-five years, I’ve seen my fair share of principals. Like my colleagues, I have witnessed the transformative power an effective principal can have on a school.

A former principal of mine comes to mind when I think of an effective leader. This principal had a vision for our school and built a collaborative culture amongst the entire teaching staff that allowed us to develop goals together in moving toward that vision. He set up teams of teachers that would work together to attain a set of goals. He developed a timeline for when the teams were responsible for completing and turning in products that reflected our achievement. He was positive and supportive of our staff, finding solutions to problems when they arose. When the goals were attained, we celebrated our shared success.

Of course, when this principal first suggested changes, several of us were uncomfortable and skeptical. But through his clear expectations and collaborative approach, he managed to build a transformative culture within our school. In the end, the principal and the school were successful in large part because the staff felt that our school leader was committed to our school’s success and was supportive of us to make it through the changes that needed to occur.

Research has shown a correlation between an effective principal and student learning. Ask any educator or parent if this is true, and there would be no end to the number of stories they could recount about how essential a principal is to a school’s success. The leadership of a school affects its entire culture and influences the teachers, who in turn, impact student learning.

With the positive wave of accountability and focus on student achievement, the role of the principal is even more critical now than ever before. Teachers today are being asked to educate all students to high levels of learning. This requires a new way of thinking and a new way of schooling. Because no single teacher has all the knowledge and all the skills to reach all the students, teachers can no longer work in isolation, but instead need to collaborate to guarantee every child a great education. The principal is no longer a manager of learning, but an active participant in this new environment.

As we understand and appreciate the critical role a principal plays supporting teacher success, we have to develop accurate ways to evaluate and hold principals accountable, just as we do for our students and just as we do for our teachers. As these evaluations are developed, several important factors should be considered. We should measure the ability of the principal to set a culture of high expectations and to put into place clear procedures and support to make sure that all students reach high standards. Student achievement growth, as measured by standardized test scores, must be a significant component of any principal evaluation.

We must evaluate the principal’s ability to serve as an instructional leader. Principals must be able to support teachers by developing action steps and product outcomes. Along with each new step, the principal demonstrates his or her support by attending the meetings and working with the teachers to overcome any obstacles. This includes providing time during the school day for teachers to meet. The principal demonstrates the importance of the new procedures through ongoing communication and various checkpoints along the way. Teachers feel supported through the change process by a leader who communicates regularly, learns along with the teachers, and provides clear targets and goals and the support and resources to help.

Lastly, any evaluation measuring principal effectiveness must include a principal's ability to identify teacher leaders and work to build leadership capacity. The principal is no longer only a visionary or manager; today he or she must be both. Principals must be able to develop their teaching force through recruiting great teachers, supporting and developing teachers to continually improve, and utilizing excellent teachers to serve as role models and leaders in the school.

To help increase student achievement we do need effective teachers. However, we also need effective principals that will set the wheels in motion for sustainable change. The principal is a key factor in the school reform effort and no reform effort can survive a principal’s indifference or opposition.

Mar 15, 2012

I Stand With Connecticut (All Alone!)

Michelle Rhee is Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a national grassroots movement working to defend the interest of children when it comes to education policy. Prior to founding StudentsFirst, Michelle served as Chancellor for District of Columbia Public Schools were she implemented comprehensive reforms which put the interests of students first.

Michelle Rhee on the steps of the Connecticut State Capitol
The Bullshit
Yesterday, I stood on the State Capitol steps with parents, community leaders and educators from across the state of Connecticut to call on pubic officials to improve Connecticut’s schools.

Surprisingly, Connecticut has one of the highest achievement gaps in the country. Low-income 8th graders are more than 3 years behind their wealthier peers in math and African-American 8th graders are more than 3 ½ years behind white 8th graders. This is unacceptable.

Those attending the rally were there to put a stop to this injustice. I was inspired by the energy and determination of those at the rally to break away from the status quo that has been failing so many of Connecticut’s students.

We have got to change the way we think about education in Connecticut and start putting into place policies and programs that will close the achievement gap and make sure that every Connecticut child has a great teacher and a great school.

The Actual Turnout
I applaud Governor Malloy’s efforts. He supports a bill being considered in the legislature that would be a significant step forward in providing a great teacher for every student by establishing a meaningful teacher and principal evaluation system which is tied to student achievement growth. The bill also reforms teacher tenure so that it is a way to reward effective teachers rather than a way to protect ineffective teachers.

I hope that in addition to this bill, the legislature passes other reforms that empower parents to take action if their children are not getting the education they deserve.

The quality of our children’s education should not be based on their zip code or the color of their skin. Connecticut citizens are standing together to stop this civil rights violation currently taking place in their state.

Mar 14, 2012

The "Education Opportunity Gap" (Or, We're Nearing The Truth)

Nithya Joseph was program analyst and manager in Washington, DC government before joining StudentsFirst over a year ago. In her current role at StudentsFirst, she is a senior policy analyst and writer.

Halli Bayer is a former middle school English teacher who now serves as as Policy Analyst for StudentsFirst.

Education is a civil rights issue. Every American child deserves the right to a quality education. The bad news is a new study shines a disturbing light on the racial disparities that exist today regarding children’s education opportunities. The good news is there are things we can do to address the injustice.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education released new data that bring a renewed focus on glaring racial inequalities we know exist for minority students. The study is based on a wide range of demographic and academic factors self-reported by schools, covering approximately 85% of our country’s students.

Unsurprisingly, the study shows stark contrasts between the education experiences of students of different races.
  • Access to High-Level Classes: There is significant racial disparity in access to high-level math and science courses such as physics, Algebra II, and calculus. For example, 82% of the schools with small numbers of Latino and African-American students offer Algebra II, compared with only 65% of the schools serving high numbers of African-American and Latino students.

  • Student discipline: African-American and Latino students are over-represented in every type of discipline measure, including suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and referrals to law enforcement.

  • Grade repetition: While African Americans represent 16% of the 6th through 8th graders in the sample, they represent 42% of the students who repeated one of those grades.

  • Teacher Equity: The study shows that schools serving the most African-American and Latino students are nearly twice as likely to employ first and second year teachers and their teachers are paid $2,251 less per year on average than their colleagues in the same district at schools serving the fewest Latino and African-American students.
These findings, while not unexpected, serve as a sober reminder that this country is not fulfilling the promise of the American Dream to our youth. There is no silver bullet to address these issues, but there are policies that we know can address and mitigate these inequalities, particularly with regard to teacher quality.

Numerous studies show that the first few years of a teacher’s career are the only years where teacher experience significantly affects student achievement levels. And yet, nationwide, teachers with only one to two years of experience are twice as likely to serve in schools with higher populations of African Americans and Latino students. Moreover, as a result of the lock-step teacher salary scales, these teachers are paid significantly less than teachers in schools with lower enrollments of African American and Latino students.

This begs the question - given the achievement gaps that persist in this country, why are we not making every effort to attract the most effective teachers to our schools with are most underserved populations?

We need to break away from lock-step salary schedules and staffing policies that are based on seniority and implement policies that are in the best interest of the students. We know that rewarding effective teachers who are willing to teach in struggling schools with higher pay and ending seniority-based layoffs will help address the racial inequities that currently exist. This is where we have the tools to change the status quo.

It is tragic fact that over forty years after the Civil Right Movement, we are literally able to predict a child’s chances of facing certain disciplinary actions at school, retention rates, and access to various high level courses, by the color of his or her skin. While we cannot draw conclusions about the root causes for these trends based off this data alone, we must continue to rely on findings like these to serve as hard evidence for demanding a public education system that serves all students- regardless of who they are and where they come from- with the same and consistent access to opportunity, rigor of instruction, respect and high expectation.

Find the full study here

Mar 8, 2012


Hari Sevugan is StudentsFirst’s Vice President of Communications. Prior to coming to StudentsFirst, Hari served as the National Press Secretary for the Democratic Party, Senior Spokesman for the Obama-Biden 2008 campaign, and school teacher at IS 143 in Washington Heights, New York.

The Huffington Post posted an article recently on the fact that education has been virtually absent from the debates surrounding the Republican presidential primaries. In fact, the article cites an analysis by The Guardian which showed that only 1% of presidential debate questions have addressed education. Michelle Rhee is quoted in the article:
Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools who now heads the advocacy group StudentsFirst, has also taken notice. The lack of focus on education is "ridiculous," she said.
"What people are failing to recognize is that we are not going to be able to ensure that our economy recovers in the long term and that this country regains its position in the global marketplace until we fix our education system," Rhee continued.
Michelle referenced StudentsFirst 1 million+ members who are going to want to hear where political candidates stand on improving our nation’s public schools.

Michelle also spoke with Fox Business News about her disappointment in the Republican primary candidates failure to address education reform issues thus far in the campaign. Michelle spoke about some of the issues that the candidates should be focusing on -- including choice and accountability -- rather than what she noted is a "ludicrous" focus on getting rid of the Department of Education. Watch Michelle in the brief clip below:

Feb 24, 2012

Empowering Teachers To Drive Change (Change They Don't Want, Need Or Condone)

Abby Parker was a teacher in Baltimore and education program manager for both non-profit and government agencies in Washington, DC, before joining StudentsFirst last May. In her current role as National Manager, Teacher Outreach she works with teachers across the country who want to advocate for change. 

Most teachers across the country have concerns about the state of education today. They are troubled with the injustice they see between different schools in the state. They are bothered by the information or lack of information they receive from the district. They need more meaningful support and professional development to improve. They want to be engaged in the changes taking place. As StudentsFirst’s National Manager of Teacher Outreach, I have the privilege of working with teachers all over the country and I know that teachers have powerful feedback and solutions to the current problems.

Teacher voices are key to meaningful change. From Michigan to Pennsylvania to California to Minnesota, I am humbled by the commitment of teachers I work with who spend time after a long day in the classroom to help tackle the problems they see with education today. Despite the daily challenges, from lack of supplies to managing classroom behavior, and handling relationships with parents and administrators, these teachers are discussing and advocating for real solutions to improve our schools. They are seeking, developing and leading opportunities to be involved in a student-centered movement that promotes excellent teaching and elevates the profession.

This level of interest and commitment has encouraged us at StudentsFirst to start teacher networks. Led primarily by teacher leaders and engaged teacher members across the country, the networks provide opportunities for teachers to connect with others that feel the same way, learn more about local and state issues, share information about state advocacy efforts, address issues they have experienced for years, and create actionable next steps. These teachers are advocates for students, schools, and the communities they serve. The potential of this network across the country, the impact it could have on students, is truly mind-blowing. We hope to empower these teachers with tools and opportunities to lead the discussion and advocate for policies that will ensure a quality education for every child.

The connection I see, between all of the teachers involved, is not only an unwavering belief that all students have enormous potential, but also a deep dissatisfaction with the current system, and a desire to do something to change it.

If you are one of these teachers, I hope you will reach out and join us.

Feb 14, 2012

A Teachers 1,501st Decision (To Support Students First? Really?)

Gina Wickstead is a StudentsFirst Teacher Fellow and currently teaches at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle where she has been for 8 years. She also serves as a staff developer in her building and site supervisor for student teachers. In addition Gina is working this year with The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession on the New Millenium Initiative to ensure students come first when policies are made in Seattle Schools.

Research states that “the average classroom teacher will make more than 1,500 educational decisions every school day.” Along with these important decisions teachers make every day, there are many more to be made while grading papers, lesson planning, leading after school activities, and researching how best to serve the children we teach every day. With the sheer volume of decisions made impacting student outcomes, who better to be involved in educational change than teachers?

But too often, teachers’ voices are not a part of policy discussion.  Throughout my nine years of teaching, I have had multiple conversations with my colleagues about things we were unhappy with and wanted to change. No one outside of the administration in our building was asking our opinions on policies that were affecting us. Many of us felt changes in education were being done to us, not with us.

Then one day I got an email from an organization called The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP). It stated that they wanted teachers to be part of a teacher leader cadre in Seattle. We would meet once a month and would choose a topic we wanted to work on. Then we’d provide our recommendations to policy-makers.

The CSTP experience was so empowering and gave me a clear example of how teachers could participate in policy decisions.  I wanted to continue to help teachers be involved with educational change and was selected to be a Teacher Fellow for StudentsFirst.  As a Fellow, I bring a teacher’s perspective to the StudentsFirst Policy Agenda to help shape the reforms that StudentsFirst members are fighting for nationwide.  In addition, I serve as a leader for other teachers who want to have a voice when it comes to education policy decisions.

As part of the Fellowship, I started a StudentsFirst Teacher Network in Seattle. Through this network, I meet with like-minded educators who want to make a difference in our community and state. We have discussed why we want to be involved in educational change and have come up with ideas for an action plan based on our discussions.

My hope for the Students First Teacher Leader Network is that teachers feel a sense of empowerment and that our perspectives help drive education policy decision-making.  Teachers need to have a forum in which we can talk openly about educational topics that are important to us. The mud slinging going on between different educational organizations is not productive. Teachers need to lead the conversation by deciding what we can agree on and then advocating for common-sense solutions at the school, district and state level.

We teachers are at the helm of the classroom every day, relentlessly working to best serve our students. We have a unique perspective on how policy decisions affect our students, our classrooms and our school. We are the ones who make those important 1,500 decisions every day and we must get involved to make even more. If you are a teacher, make your 1,501st decision today and get involved.

Feb 9, 2012

Connecticut Students Have Only One Shot (So Let's Shoot 'Em!)

Milly Arciniegas is former President and current active member of the Hartford Parent Organization Council (HPOC), a coalition of 48 PTOs at public schools throughout the city of Hartford. She is also the mother of 2 boys educated in Hartford public schools.

As a mother of two boys educated by Hartford public schools -- one a current student and one a former student, I know first hand of the challenges faced today by parents, teachers and district leaders as we try to provide a quality education for all Connecticut students.

We have an enormous achievement gap in this state -- perhaps the highest in the nation. The difference in academic achievement between groups of students -- particularly between low-income minority students and their wealthier white peers -- is staggering and unacceptable.

Our kids only have one shot at a quality education. We cannot wait another year to make changes -- change must occur now. It is critical that the state step in with some clear policies that help ensure that every child gets a quality education.

That is why I’m so excited that StudentsFirst has come into the state of Connecticut to help organize and support the 13,000 StudentsFirst members in the state and work with groups like HPOC and CHIPSA to make sure new laws are passed this legislative session that will drive meaningful change in our local schools.

One of our highest priorities is to implement rigorous and meaningful teacher evaluation systems across the state. Teachers obviously play a huge role in the education of our students. But without rigorous and meaningful teacher evaluations, we often lose some of our best teachers and we let teachers that need improvement flounder with no support. This is unfair to our kids – every kid deserves a great teacher.

I look forward to working with StudentsFirst members in the coming months to make sure that the state of Connecticut gets on the right track so that no more students lose their one chance at a quality education.

Jan 10, 2012

An Anomaly Occurred At Students First!!

From Stephanie Rivera, who thought twice after reading about our concerns about StudentsFirst. Stephanie is a great example of someone who actually does the work before forming an opinion. Good for her.
Phew. That was intense.
It’s currently 3:04AM and I just spent the past 2 hours trying to understand why people were attacking  StudentsFirst’s (an educational reform movement) Facebook Page. I discovered SF a few days ago and briefly reading its purpose, I immediately thought–this is exactly what I need to take part of. I was planning to send in my application as a Campus Director tomorrow. Then this happened.

To begin, StudentsFirst was founded in 2010 by Michelle Rhee who is now the CEO. She’s done some fantastic and inspiring work for education. She taught with Teach for America, “created a Youth Cabinet to bring students’ voices into reforming the DC Public Schools,” and founded The New Teacher Project (TNTP).  Evidently, I found her phenomenal, how could anyone attack her and this movement?
So when I was just skimming through SF’s facebook page,  a comment by user “Tee Eff  Tee,” (Acronym for The Frustrated Teacher) caught my eye.
“Wow Amy, with so many silly statements, and erroneous ones, you’d think you would want to learn about the topic before posting.
SF is NOT a good cause. They are causing damage. Damage you don’t see, for some reason I will refrain from speculating on.”
I immediately thought, this guy doesn’t have a real name, he’s just a guy with no life attacking an incredible cause. Yet, then I saw more posts from him. They weren’t anything thoughtless either, there was clear effort. It caught my attention when one SF supporter wrote, “And what do YOU do to make an education change in our system?” And TFT replied: “I left the classroom. I started a blog. I helped with the SOS March. I work with kids with special needs the schools won’t or can’t work with. I interview people on internet radio about education reform.”
Obviously I do not have real proof that his statement is legit, but he does in fact have a blog.
Anyway, these lashing outs from supporters and non-supporters went on for over 55 comments on almost every post on SF’s wall. I was questioning to myself, “Is all I know a lie? There’s no way, this guy is just a fraud. But what if he’s not? I can’t apply or support something I have misconceptions about.” Then finally I decided, enough is enough of these biased opinions. I’ll do the research myself and make my opinion on that.
I watched her “Save Great Teachers” video which I think had a lot of great points. Yet, of course, comments stating her statistics were wrong and other attacks were not hard to find.
I read their Mission Statement, Michelle’s Bio, basically everything that could give me a clearer idea. I downloaded SF’s Policy Agenda. Read the first two pages and was ecstatic she was pushing for better training of teachers and better evaluations. Finding the flaw was a puzzle, I just kept thinking, “I don’t understand, where are these people finding a reason to attack her?” I went back to the FB wall in an attempt to find a more clear reasoning, but this time it wasn’t an attack from TFT, instead a teacher. Take a look for yourself:
 (I know it’s lengthy, so in a nutshell, he is basically questioning where in SF’s movement do they address critical issues in our education system)
There are about 50 more comments like these that address issues that StudentsFirst fails to address such as     the problem with our nation’s emphasis on test scores, he writes,
“The current environment in public schools has devolved to a test-score grind-house…Consequently, students are missing important experiences that…would give students a window onto the world around them thereby informing them and giving critical life experiences that are foundational to developing an ability to evaluate, discriminate, and critically think about problem solving.”
In addition asking how this will fix the achievement gap between those in lower socio-economic statuses. Although I understand this topic can get one with a lot of passion heated, this one made me say “ouch” out loud in this attack to George, an Ohio State Campus Director for StudentsFirst.
The question to you, George, is why you support predominantly low-income children of color being taught by TFA (Teach For America) teachers when research shows they would be better off if those teachers had more training before they’re put in front of that particular classroom. Consider that that middle class white school districts and elite private schools probably wouldn’t hire someone unproven and with only five weeks of preparation you must consider there’s a reason why TFA teacher are in Compton, California, and not in Beverly Hills. In our society it’s OK for low-income black and Latino children to have inexperienced teachers with only five weeks of training. That would never fly in wealthier and whiter school districts.
With about 20 more comments by others and 3 days later, Dave wrote:
George – Do you have any answers to my questions? Are you reading the posts? Or is it that you can’t reconcile the conflict in your heart.
Personally, I think that statement may have taken it too far.
So my final say on StudentsFirst? I’m not too sure yet. I will say it has excellent intentions, but it fails to address serious and primitive issues we have continued to ignore for too many years. Moreover, this  definitely open my eyes and made me realize I cannot take on reform in such a simple manner. Looking back now, I can’t believe I was about to apply for such a serious position without completely researching the facts. I just thought, “Oh, educational reform? It must be legit then!” I guess it’s good I learned this lesson now than later, though.
Of course I am excited that so many people are taking action and care for better education. But I am still new to the complexity of reforms and social change. I can’t rightfully make judgement on something I do not fully understand, so for now I will just continue to advocate the issues I believe need to be addressed. Because in the end, were all fighting for essentially the same thing.
What are your thoughts on this reform?