Bridging the Gap

June 10, 2005

Columbia University Teachers College announced Thursday a push to inform lawmakers on how to bring education for low-income and minority kids up to speed with that afforded their suburban neighbors.

Michael Rebell, director of the the Campaign For Fiscal Equity, which won a court ruling recommending that New York City schools receive an extra $14.8 billion from the state education fund, will lead the new Campaign for Educational Equity.

Since the recommendation for the additional billions came last November, Rebell began to ask himself: “When that money comes, how are we going to deliver the goods?” he said. The new campaign seeks to give legislators research and model programs that will help get the goods to children at poor schools. Rebell said that federal policy mandates that all children must be up to their state’s standards by 2014, and that the campaign will provide a clubhouse for teachers, researchers and lawmakers to talk about how to make that happen. 

Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, said he is not sure yet just what the campaign will look like, but hopes it will raise $12 million the first year, and imagines it will soon have a small staff of experts who will work at the college. Levine said the campaign represents a “new commitment,” and vowed that Teachers College will change in any way necessary to accommodate the goals. He outlined three parts to the campaign.

The first is the research component, which will seek to identify the data needs of lawmakers, and will include a biennial report card that will grade equity in every state, and an annual symposium. The first symposium, scheduled for October, will be on “the costs of inequality.”

Second, Levine said, since the new research won’t do any good locked away in an ivory tower, the campaign will have a Web site that “translates research into English for legislators.”

And third, the campaign will seek to establish model programs in actual schools, beginning in New York City where the college already has strong connections, in the hope that other states, and even other countries, will look to the models.

One of Rebell’s primary goals is to establish accountability for educational reforms.

“Polls have shown that taxpayers will pay extra for education, if only they are sure what they are paying for will work,” said Rebell. “That’s the credibility gap we’re fighting. We need credibile educational programs that will bring kids up to the standards.”

Robert Jackson, New York City councilman and co-founder of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, hopes Rebell can lead the charge on the forces that guard the status quo in urban education. “Mix it up Mike,” he said, as he cupped his hands and began to shake an imaginary drink. “Like a milkshake. Shake it up Mike. Give ‘em hell, and don’t stop.”

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