Students fight for education reform

by Katie Knoll

Every Sunday night, Students for Education Reform meets to discuss challenges of the American public school system and advocate for change.

SFER is a national movement that has more than 140 undergraduate chapters at 2- and 4- year colleges nationwide. SFER encourages students to speak up for educational justice in the K-12 system.

Whitworth’s SFER chapter began two years ago, and has 15-20 core participants. Seniors Macy Olivas and Sergio Jara Arroyos co-lead the group.

Last year Olivas testified at a legislative session held to discuss Initiative 1240, which supported charter schools.

Olivas, who attended a charter school, provided a personal testimony at three hearings in support of the initiative. There she met Chris Eide, co-founder and executive director of Teachers United.

Eide came to campus Thursday, April 11, to lecture about Teachers United and education reform.

Eide said he believes teachers have a role in changing the public education system.

“When it comes to who should change the system, I contend that it’s the teachers,” Eide said.

In particular, he said he believes great teachers know how to shape the system. However, he said that great teachers are often underacknowledged, and end up leaving the profession because of their limited opportunities for advancement. He said that 10,000 high-performing teachers are leaving the 50 biggest school districts each year.

“Why can’t you be a teacher and make an impact on the system?” Eide said. “Inside the hearts and minds of the best teachers is the blueprint of a great system.”

Eide also emphasized the quantity of new teachers, saying that there were more first-year teachers today than any other seniority level.

“Now we have a system that needs to adapt,” Eide said. “And we have a whole group of people entering into the system who have a once in a decades-long chance to actually make that adaptation happen.”

Public relations coordinator for SFER, senior Katie Traylor, said Eide’s message to teachers and future teachers was strong.

“It’s really important that teachers know how to advocate for themselves, and to know how to make changes in policy,” Traylor said. “Ultimately, they’re the ones in the classroom with [our] students.”

Many members of SFER attended the event, including the group’s school outreach director, senior Marisa Shumake.

She said that even for those not planning to go into the education field, she thinks education reform still holds significance.

“Being conscious of ed reform helps you become a better community member, or a better parent,” Shumake said. “Thinking ed reform is the cure to all social ills, that’s why I sit here.”

Earlier this year, Shumake led advocacy for Initiative 1240. She and other SFER members worked to inform students about both sides of the issue, and went door-to-door in the community, attended debates and kept in contact with campaign coordinators.

Olivas said that—although advocating for ed reform issues is important to SFER—a key part of their work is educating themselves and others about the existing problems.

“What’s at the heart of SFER is figuring out the problems and what we can do about them, [as well as] figuring out our own personal beliefs,” Olivas said.

Arroyos said he supports putting public education in the hands of the community.

“[Public] school used to belong to the community and not to the government. Now we don’t have that; it’s a shame,” Arroyos said.

Traylor agreed that students, parents and teachers do not have enough power.

“The [public education system] is shaped by policy makers that have never stepped foot in a classroom,” Traylor said. “Why are we letting them make the decisions?”

Arroyos said that, while SFER educates about ed reform issues, they strive to articulate their importance.

“At the end of the day, we have to share why,” Arroyos said. “It’s not about how, it’s about why…it matters to us, and why it matters that other kids receive a great education.”

Contact Katie Knoll at kknoll16@my.whitworth.edu

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