According to Education Week and the National Center for Education Statistics, commonwealth schools are some of the best in the country. Among other accolades, Massachusetts has the closest gap between poor and privileged children, and boasts America's highest scores in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores. Still, there's room for significant improvement — especially in underperforming urban schools — and to that end Patrick signed his education-reform package into law in 2010, after more than a year of deliberation. Despite initial push back from unions, the bill put in place stringent new teacher-evaluation standards, and was designed through a consensus process between labor and about 40 other stakeholders, including everyone from business leaders, to experts from Harvard and MIT, to SFC.

Soon after agreeing to Patrick's reforms, though, SFC broke away from the pack. Claiming that the measures weren't bold enough — specifically, that principals, superintendents, and school boards should have more if not all power over teacher evaluations and firing — the group paid more than $300,000 to gather signatures to advance a unilateral proposal in the form of a ballot initiative. The compromise that's likely to pass the state legislature in July is less severe in its stripping of union controls, but the fact remains that SFC is the new education power broker on Beacon Hill, and that its agenda represents the will of corporations — not the grassroots.

"Stand for Children built a reputation on people like me who wanted to do something and were tired of the cuts every year, and of losing teachers," says Tracy Novick, a Worcester School Committee member with three children in public schools.

"This was a 180-degree turn," adds Roger Garberg, a Gloucester School Committee member with one child in the system there. Garberg argues that more funding — not a siphoning of cash to charter schools and private enterprises — is needed for real reform to take place. "Initially, people like me were attracted to [SFC] because it offered us a chance to learn the skills of organizing on behalf of public schools when we'd seen several years of substantial cuts. But Stand's methods changed within a matter of six months, as did the agenda behind the whole thing."

Chris Faraone can be reached at  cfaraone@phx.com.

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