A few months ago, Chris Roberts, a young teacher in Northeast Ohio, received an email through StudentsFirst recommending that he sign up for their Teachers for Transformation Academy.  He signed up for their mailing list a few years ago because he was initially attracted to the StudentsFirst talking points.  A self described libertarian-leaning Republican, Chris was intrigued and decided to apply for the position.  After some recent phone interviews, Chris was offered the position of Ohio’s Teacher for Transformation Fellow along with an attractive $5,000 stipend – a very nice paycheck for the young teacher and father of three.

As the fourth-year teacher researched into their agenda in preparation for  the work ahead, Chris realized that he no longer believed in the work of StudentsFirst as he once had.  His personal experiences as a teacher and a father had caused him to realize that StudentsFirst doesn’t actually put students first, but instead promotes the ongoing attack on teachers that we see in society today.

Chris ultimately declined the position yesterday, composing a detailed letter explaining his decision.  He shared the letter with us, and now we’re sharing his amazing response with you.

Dear StudentsFirst,

Thank you for the offer to serve as a member of the Teachers for Transformation Academy and a $5,000 stipend to promote the StudentsFirst agenda in Ohio. I am truly honored to have been selected to be Ohio’s Teacher for Transformation. However, I have decided to decline your offer, and I want you to understand why.

I had initially thought that by joining the Teachers for Transformation Academy that I could help make a difference in education, a difference in the lives of the millions of children who go to school everyday. However, I’m afraid that the difference that would be made would be for the worse. I was initially drawn to StudentsFirst’s ideas as a new teacher. A few years ago I saw an episode of Stossel in which StudentsFirst was showcased. I liked most of what I heard about the organization. And when I saw the movie Waiting for Superman, I thought I was convinced. Having already been one who leans libertarian, is a registered Republican, and believes in free markets and the inefficiency of government-run entities, I liked a lot of what I was hearing. It made sense to promote charter schools to provide competition; it made sense to base teachers’ pay on their performance; and it made sense to remove the barriers to get rid of poor performing teachers. I knew I was going to be a good teacher, so why should I care about seniority protections? Besides, if there were cuts, it would be those older teachers who would stay and I would get cut, so those seniority protections seemed to hurt me more than they benefited me.

Now after four years in the classroom, my view of education has changed. Now, I am not so convinced that the StudentsFirst agenda is what is best for students. Those “older teachers” whom I felt didn’t deserve the seniority protections were actually some of the most helpful people I’ve ever come across. Their years of experience meant they had a wealth of classroom management advice to share. They weren’t stubborn curmudgeons as portrayed by those trying to “reform” education. They are some of the most caring, loving people I’ve known. Are there a couple of bad eggs every once in a while? Yes. But that is the case in any profession. You occasionally will find a bad doctor, hence malpractice suits. But instead of “reforming” the medical field and basing doctors’ evaluations on patients’ health, politicians instead push for tort reform to make it harder to sue doctors. I guess you could say that Republicans are pushing to protect bad doctors. One of the problems that I see with eliminating seniority protections boils down to money. Schools are strapped for money, it is nearly impossible to pass a levy and the state seems content with defunding. The more experienced teachers tend to be the most “expensive”. Despite their ratings and evaluations, I could see many schools getting rid of those teachers not because they perform poorly, but because it would be cheaper to bring in a new hire. Students could suffer from this.

As a parent, I have a problem with the evaluation systems being pushed by StudentsFirst and other corporate-driven reformers. With teachers’ evaluations being based on progress on student test scores, that means students must be tested to an extent never seen before. In every single class, multiple times a year, students are taking more standardized tests. My six-year old daughter told me this summer that she was afraid to go to first grade “because of the tests”. She is afraid she won’t do well on them. That is pathetic. Children should be excited to go to school and learn, but school has become more about tests rather than learning. School is about getting a certain score on a certain test. Education policies are killing children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn. I can’t help but wonder if this is intentional. Are there certain people out there who want to destroy public schools through excessive testing, defunding, and unfunded mandates in order to make people “want” privatization of schools? It sometimes seems like it. Whether intentional or not, unfortunately StudentsFirst’s agenda aligns with this style of reform that we have been seeing take over the public education conversation. Although I believe in free market capitalism, I see that in the case of education the more private corporations get involved in education, the worse our schools get. There are large corporations making these tests, the politicians force these tests upon our schools, and the test companies also make the textbooks and curricula for the schools to follow. It is a terrible marriage of big business and big government and children are the ones taking a hit. Teachers are becoming scripted robots and these corporations are making billions from our tax dollars, which could instead be going towards improving our schools. I, for one, do not want my children subjected to so much testing.

I see the StudentsFirst agenda as being a big part of this trend in education that I disdain, both as a teacher and especially as a parent. The agenda that Students First and other reformers are pushing aren’t going to “fix” education. We are told that having more charter schools will fix things, but a look at recent news shows us that that narrative is completely false. Charter schools are a perfect example of what those of us in libertarian circles call “crony capitalism”. Publicly funded schools run by private enterprise – nothing can go wrong, right? Instead, money is being taken away from public schools, especially ones that need the funding the most.
Students First promotes a myth that “adult interests” get in the way of reform that will help students. As a teacher and a parent, I have come to understand that this line of reasoning is not only misleading, but it’s downright false. I went into education because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of my students. Every day, I am inspired by my teaching colleagues who sacrifice themselves every day in order to ensure their students are challenged, supported and nurtured in ways that will lead them to success in life, not just a passing score on a test. I have further come to realize that the best way to truly make a difference in the lives of my students is by working in collaboration with my fellow teachers.

This year, rather than selling myself out in support of an agenda that bashes unions and seeks to dis-empower those who have committed their lives to the teaching profession, I am proud to have been chosen by my colleagues as an officer in our local union. We join our voices together in order to advocate for our students, and I know that I will do far more to become a better teacher and improve the teaching and learning conditions of my students by working with and through my union than I could ever hope to do by joining your Academy.
StudentsFirst is all about tearing people down, using the funding you’ve received from corporate contributors to advance policies that push testing to put labels on schools and drive good people out of the teaching profession. I would rather work to lift people up. I believe in my students. I believe in my colleagues. I believe in public education.

That’s why you can keep your $5,000.

Christopher Roberts

  • Think.

    The sounds from his standing ovation are deafening. BRAVO, Chris!

  • anastasjoy

    That is very moving — and dead on.

  • Chris Hansem

    Spot on and well done.

  • citizen

    Thank you for maturing, a result of your personal experience. The question we have is how to convince others who lack your experience that you are correct as I know you are.

  • Jon Barlow

    Christopher, you can’t be a libertarian and support public schools. It just doesn’t work. Either it is wrong to take money from person X and use it to educate person Y’s kids or it is right. Libertarians say it is wrong and a violation of the non-aggression principle. I’m cool with whatever you want to believe, but you should either stick to your stated principles, or find a way to state principles that match your actual convictions.

  • Red Rover

    Fantastic letter! Any restrictions on distributing it?

  • Valeriea

    Brilliant and from the heart! The voice of a classroom practitioner is so important in these trying times.

  • gregmild

    Chris sent it for us to post publicly and it has been shared widely through Facebook already.

  • Francesco Portelos


  • Deb

    He did say that he “leans” Libertarian. Not quite the same thing. 🙂

  • Grandma S

    Thank you for your wonderful letter. I am a new teacher myself, and I see all the knowledge that comes from teachers that have been in the classroom for a long time. We need to protect these good teachers, and the few bad ones will get weeded out, just give them time. To test our kids to death is nonsense, and to base our teacher salaries on these tests is absolutely stupid. I would never accept additional pay if I had an extremely bright student come into my classroom and raise my average classroom score, and I would hate to have my pay lowered, or to lose my job because I got a student in my classroom that had been in four different schools in four different states this year. How do you test that??? Common sense needs to prevail, and we need to stop bashing our teachers for the very small percentage of teachers that should not be in this profession; 99% of them give all they have, and then some just to help their students.

  • SaveOurSchoolsNZ

    A heart thank you from New Zealand, for saying it all so very well. Kia kaha. ~ Dianne

  • amyvav

    If citizens do not continually examine the beliefs of their political parties in light of societal changes and are not willing to diverge from those beliefs based upon personal convictions which are not precisely the same, the party system begins to stagnate – much like we see happening in our government today. American political parties have evolved over the centuries – one free-thinking citizen at a time. Christopher declared his political leanings in the most accurate way possible within our current party system. And diverged strongly from both of them in this eloquent, heartfelt letter. The clarity of his beliefs is quite clear to me.
    Well done, Christopher! As a union officer myself I applaud your enthusiasm. Your students and co-workers are lucky to have you. Have a great school year!!

  • Jack Covey

    One proof of the bankruptcy of the corporate reformers’ goals is the fact that the prescriptions for education that they wish to impose of the mass of middle and working class children… in their own choices for their own children’s education, they send them to schools that are diametrically opposed in almost every way… no standardized tests, no narrowing of the curriculum, no revolving door of 2-5 years and out teachers, teachers with decades of experience and multiple degrees, ..

    We’re talking Bill Gates sending his kids to Lakeside in Seattle.

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sending his kids to the Chicago Lab School.

    Obama sending his kids to Sidwell Friends.

    Chris Christie sending his kids to an expensive private school…

    NY State Ed Commissioner John King sending his kids to a private Montessori school…

    Their kids get a superior kind of education kind, while “other people’s children” get something else.

  • lausdteacher

    I generally notice that people become more moderate- from both the right and the left- after a few years in the classroom.

  • dmoore2222

    Terrific! Too bad the general public has so little information about what really happens in the schools and tends to believe the “reformers” because the talking points sounds good.

  • martin danenberg

    Chris should read this….

    Profesor Martin Danenberg 07:34 AM


    By Profesor Martin Danenberg “El Quijote del GED” with Queen Makkada, Jose M. Rios, and Angel Martinez.

    A quick word about Eva Moskowitz and Queen Makkada. Both Eva Moskowitz and Queen Makkada say that their schools must partner with parents. Queen Makkada does not have a lottery system for students because the students are in their neighborhood schools. Queen Makkada does not get paid a salary and Eva Moskowitz gets well over $300,000 a year. Queen works with about 300 parents that she has trained and about 85 percent of the children of these parents pass their state exams. Eva Moskowitz says that 82 percent passed math and 58 percent passed ELA exams. Eva Moskowitz says we cannot fix poverty if we do not fix education, but all over our nation urban areas are fighting poverty by fighting for a higher minimum wage and better salaries overall. Any differences in percentages may be due to better teaching to the test. Teaching to the test has to improve in school districts all over our nation. No Child Left Behind demanded 100 percent proficiency and anything less was considered a failing school. Diane Ravitch writes about this in The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. She tells us that America’s schools are not failing and you can see indications of that in this article.

    Essentially what Queen Makkada and Eva Moskowitz have done is similar. Queen did not take over a school that was closed down. The 300 parents come from various schools. The students at the Success Academies, too, come from various schools. Neither Queen Makkada nor Eva Moskowitz (I believe) has turned around a failing school. If the parents decide that their children should leave those ten schools and enter Success Academies in September, Queen Makkada would have to start all over and the Success Academies would reap the benefits. If Queen Makkada could accomplish all of this in Far Rockaway, can we not provide the same help to parents all over the city of New York, all over our nation, and all around the world? I believe we can and I am ready to proceed. I have no objection to charter schools, but charter schools really are not the answer to a huge problem and I do not consider Eva Moskowitz or Campbell Brown the Michael Jordans of education. For profit schools seem to be the answer, but I have just explained what is really needed and we can start in September to make a huge difference, even where there are no Success Academies. Move over Campbell Brown. Campbell Brown in on the board of Success Academies. The facts that Eva Moskowitz wrote about in her article in the New York Post are okay, but I ask that there be much more integrity in this great debate that is taking place. I know that I can provide that integrity. It is up to others to reach higher and give us the whole truth and that truth is that parents everywhere can make a great difference and teachers need to learn how to teach to the test.


  • deannawoods

    Well said!!

  • ROThornhill

    Libertarianism is a pretty common transitional phase for Republicans who eventually end up progressives. As a reformed young Republican who first gave up on the party because of its racism and anti-gay bigotry, I remember how easy it was to see Libertarianism as a small government movement that shared my liberal social agenda. It took a little longer for me to figure out that Libertarianism had its own racist undertones and that getting rid of all the rules would probably benefit only white men like me. I’m not saying that’s what this guy’s going through, but you’re going to have a few contradictory beliefs when you’re going through an ideological shift.

  • Mary Ellen Barrett

    Thank you for recognizing the value of the “older generation”! 🙂 This is my 30th year teaching ESE students and it is refreshing to hear the passion in your letter. My career began with passion for teaching students with disabilities because I knew I could reach them; I was able to make the connection. Thirty years later, I still have the gift of making the connection with even the toughest of children. My passion for working with these students continues to burn within but the level of brightness from that candle has grown very dim due to mandates, politics and people not involved in the day to day lives of students, making decisions on how I should teach. It is a travesty what is being done to these young children that USE TO want to learn.

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