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Student group brings new education reform dialogue

Published: Friday, November 9, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 02:11


Justin McCallum / The Tufts Daily

A new student group hopes to take action to better the education system in the U.S.


Education reform may not have been among the hottest topics in the run-up to the recent elections, but a new student group is taking matters into their own hands. Tufts Students for Education Reform (TSFER), which formed this semester, has two key objectives: to raise awareness about education reform issues and to take action.

Junior Lauren Schonberger began the Tufts SFER chapter with the hope that that Tufts students could begin to influence the development of education reform in Massachusetts.

“There are so many ways to do something about that in Boston and as a student at Tufts,” Schonberger said. “We are raising awareness and getting people to understand that there are issues in our education system that can be changed, and at the same time, taking action. We are people who know there are issues with education reform and who want to do something about that.”

Tufts SFER, which is not yet recognized by the Tufts Community Union Judiciary (TCUJ), is part of a larger nonprofit organization, Students for Education Reform (SFER), which comprises nearly 70 chapters on campuses across the country and approximately 3,000 members.

SFER works to promote dialogue on college campuses about education disparities and potential solutions. Its other principal aims are to support legislative policies that prioritize student needs and to link college students with education reform organizations, according to the SFER website.

The group on campus meets once a week and has held several discussion sessions this semester to engender dialogue surrounding education reform. More recently, the student group invited SFER’s Massachusetts State Program Director Jamie Engel to speak on campus.

“We talked about what types of policy issues in Massachusetts we might want to get involved in,” Sarah Reitzes, a freshman, said.

One of TSFER’s central goals is to support specific education reform legislation in Massachusetts. Schonberger hopes that the group can form a collective stance on key issues in Massachusetts, such as the charter cap.

According to Schonberger, the group will discuss its standpoint on the current state-imposed limit on charter schools and the number of students enrolled. Group members will also consider the effect of charter schools on funding for non-charter public schools.

“There are definitely different opinions about charter schools within the group,” Reitzes said. “I think if we’re going to come up with a group opinion there will be some people who won’t agree with it, but I think we can form a majority opinion.”

Schonberger said that although a political divide has formed within the group already, it is because members disagree for a greater purpose. That said, Schonberger believes it may be the most important goal for the group to become politically involved because taking action is what will make a difference.

“What I love about education reform is that there is no right answer. Rather, there is a right answer but we just don’t know exactly what works best yet,” Schonberger said.

“Education reform has come to mean something very specific. Ten years ago, if you said ‘education reform’ I think it would have meant a whole other set of ideas and policies ... The way the media talk about education reform now is always in terms of charter schools as the saviors and bashing of teacher unions,” Senior Lecturer of Education Steven Cohen said. 

“They’re talking about instruments of standardized tests to judge whether students are learning anything and whether teachers are effective. I would consider myself in favor of education reform, but not that brand.”

As a group that aims to pass acts that favor students in the classroom, Schonberger envisions the group taking neither a Democratic nor a Republican standpoint on the issues. According to Schonberger, there is a dichotomy between Democrats who support teachers’ unions and Democrats who support students in the classroom.

For example, one of the topics TSFER is beginning to focus on is raising awareness of the achievement gap, or the disparity in levels of educational success between students within various gender, socioeconomic or racial categories. According to Reitzes, the concept may be unfamiliar to many on campus.

“I think most Tufts students ... went to good high schools, so they might not be as aware of the problems in our education system,” she said.

According to Cohen, the top-down model of using students’ standardized test scores to evaluate both teachers’ effectiveness and students’ proficiencies improperly measures the value of an education.

“One thing that I find helpful is, in fact, not to necessarily talk about an achievement gap, but to think about an opportunity gap,” Cohen said.

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