The founding SFER chapter at Princeton University with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2011
In 2009, a group of students at Princeton University started a club to foster campus conversation about the achievement gap and promising solutions. We believed that college students had an important stake in the education reform conversation as the most recent graduates of the public education system – and we knew that every successful social movement is led by young people with idealism and courage.
As we started to grow to more college campuses during 2010, we realized that college students were uniquely positioned to be advocates for improving public education. We also realized that engaging in community organizing work during college helped students access their full leadership and choose meaningful careers improving schools. Our co-founders Alexis Morin and Catharine Bellinger launched a nonprofit in 2011, and during our first three years, SFER grew into a national nonprofit focused on supporting students who are accelerating education reform through community organizing in their local districts and states.
Our Students and Alumni
SFER primarily supports students who have overcome education inequality in heroic ways, have political will, are of the community and are often first-generation college students. We help these students organize their peers city- and state-wide to improve the issues barring so many American students from accessing college and opportunities.
Our Statement of Principles
The first 7 chapters of our organization drafted this document to unite our student movement for educational justice. It has been carefully updated over time as our movement has grown. This document was drafted by students and demonstrates our belief in every child and the assets and power of their families and communities.
Our experiences as recent graduates of K-12 education systems across the country inform the way we advocate for great schools for all children. Our personal stories and our direct experiences unite us in our beliefs as an organization of committed college students fighting for educational justice. As members of SFER, we believe in the following:
High Expectations, High Supports
Our diplomas should mean something. High standards will ensure that students are college ready without the need to take remedial coursework. Every child can learn and achieve at a high level. Regardless of race or socio-economic status, our kids should be held to a set of clear, challenging standards. We’ll know how our students are doing through strong and reliable tests that are aligned to the lofty goals we set for our kids. We need to provide the necessary support, both financially and with talented staff, to set our students up for success.
We believe in the power of great leaders in the classroom. As students we know first hand that a great teacher can fundamentally change a student’s life. Many of us have experienced great teachers ourselves. We have to create a system that attracts, supports, rewards and keeps the best teachers in front of students. Teachers deserve better pay and preparation programs that are proven to work. Excellent instruction must be a priority, and our students deserve only the best.
Serving Every Child
A high quality public education system must reach every child. It must address the academic achievement gap between students of color and their white peers. We need equitable funding strategies because some students have increased needs and require more support. But it’s not just about money. We need to ensure equal access to great teachers, positive school culture, technology, high quality pre-school, and culturally relevant curriculum that empowers students. A strong educational system has rigorous and culturally relevant curriculum and makes an extra effort to reach low-income students and students of color, who are often left behind.
Justice in Schools
Students deserve to learn in a positive school climate that does not criminalize them. The school-to-prison pipeline presents a serious threat to students of color. Schools and districts have a duty to set all students up for success by reducing the amount of suspensions and expulsions and eliminating zero tolerance policies. We believe in positive discipline alternatives that are fair to all students, both in theory and practice, and place learning above all else.
We believe that all parents and students have the right to quality school choices. Quality schools have strong systems of accountability and proven results for all students. Access to these choices requires an informed and empowered community. We need to expand the amount of excellent choices parents have, and provide them free information about the schools they send their children to. We believe in great schools, and great schools come in many shapes and sizes like traditional district schools and public charters. We must place quality above all else and allow many different types of schools to serve different kids.