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Rise of Student Reformers in California

I asked Courtney, a high school student and founder of Students Transforming Education (STE), what caused him to become active and work toward reforming tenure in California.  I figured I would soon hear a story about a horrible teacher, the kind you hear about on the news – that “bad apple” who does not care about his or her students, is lazy, and doesn’t help students achieve academic heights.

I was surprised to hear the exact opposite.  Courtney explained that his life had been changed for the better thanks to outstanding teachers.

“I have been extremely lucky to have amazing teachers and I have seen firsthand the impact a great teacher can have,” he said.  Courtney had been pushed and inspired to take part in extracurricular activities like Youth & Government.

He recognized how is own life was changed  the necessity for every student in the nation to have access to outstanding teachers.

The summer before his junior year, Courtney got to work on his very own organization, STE, to “transform” the system that keeps poorly performing teachers in place.  “After researching about the situation in California and talking with teachers, administrators, school board members and education reform advocates, I decided it was time some gets students involved.”  He created an online presence using his knowledge in website design, and made it easy for students like him to inform themselves about the issues and get involved.

For Courtney, that is what was important: students getting involved, and students using their voices to fight for a change in the system that would directly affect their lives and academic experiences.  High school students get a bad rap, in his view, for not being involved and not caring about the issues.

“Students are not given the same potential to voice their opinions,” he said.  But he and his organization are set out to transform that too.

Not only does STE strive for tenure reform, but also, on another level, hopes to show that students can take control of their academic futures and care about the system enough to enact change.  Perhaps it is those in the policy world who should be getting the bad rap for not listening enough to actual students.

The main vehicle that STE offers for students to get their voice heard and to do away with teacher tenure in California is through petitions.  Students challenging themselves to raise awareness and collect signatures, which now total over two thousand, are how STE’s goals are met.

Courtney and STE are to be commended for taking action and for the results they have achieved.  It is people like Courtney who provide the “boots on the ground” of education reform.  Courtney proves that grassroots activists, of any age across the entire country can get results.

The simple fact is that two thousand students (and counting) cannot be wrong.  Each one of those signatures represents a student with a story of a great teacher that changed their life for the better.  Each signifies the importance of establishing policies that put fantastic teachers in front of our nation’s students.

They deserve nothing less.  Each signature represents a student who may have not been given the opportunity to be educated by a stellar teacher, and that may have had a negative impact on the rest of their lives.

Next to parents, teachers are the most important influence in a child’s life, and it’s for this reason that teacher quality is of the utmost importance.  Teachers who are successful should be rewarded.  California uses seniority, not performance in the classroom to make layoff decisions, and student learning is not an integral part of teacher evaluations.  It is clear that education California needs transforming and needs reform.  I applaud, the efforts of Courtney and Students Transforming Education to put in place a system that favors quality educators, in the classroom.

Learn more about Teacher Quality in CA in CER’s Parent Power Index.

 

Tyler Losey, Outreach Coordinator

 

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