Tisch and Rebell Lead TC's Equity Campaign to Washington
Published in Inside - Volume XI, No.7
Any way you slice it, spring started with a bang for Michael Rebell.
On March 29, the
Meanwhile Rebell, who began his current job as Executive Director of The Campaign for Educational Equity at TC last June, was too busy to celebrate. Instead, he was in
"For the past 12 years, I've been asking judges to give schools the money they need," Rebell said. "But what I've really learned from all the work going on at TC is that if you're serious about eliminating the achievement gap, you've got to deal - up front - with the impact of poverty on so many children. And that means looking not only at the potential benefits of universal preschool, but also at health issues, like the high rates of asthma in poor black children, family support, after school programs and much more."
Rebell and Tisch also called for Congress to significantly retool the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, which is up for reauthorization in 2007 - and to precede that work with a national study of the true cost of providing children with a quality education.
"It is our belief that the federal government - and Congress, in particular - must engage in an exhaustive analysis of precisely what aspects of this law have been successful, what needs fixing, and how," said Tisch in her opening remarks. "This analysis must be conducted in a way that draws upon the highest-quality research and ensures a debate driven by facts rather than a priori partisan ideologies. We believe this is the only way to ensure that we are serving the interests of
"This can't be a campaign; it has to be a crusade," said Rangel in a rousing speech. "There's no problem I can think of that can't be eliminated or at least alleviated by improving education."
For Rebell, who views the work of The Campaign as a natural outgrowth of school finance lawsuits like New York's (for which he still acts as counsel), the timing of the New York appropriation vote and The Campaign's rollout on Capitol Hill perfectly illustrated the link between his old job and his new one.
Rebell explained, "When I was offered the opportunity to lead The Campaign, I was thrilled, because now I could finally confront a question that people have been asking me for the past 12 years - namely, 'Well, if you get the money, is it going to matter or is it just going to go down the same old bureaucratic rat hole?'"
The Campaign's focus, he said, is to ensure, on a national level, that money spent on education does indeed matter. One way it will do that, Rebell said, is by applying lessons learned from school finance cases like New York's to the question of how to rethink No Child Left Behind, a law that gives the federal government clear powers to penalize failing schools and districts, but is less clear about defining success or providing schools with the resources to achieve it.
In addition, The Campaign intends to marshal research currently available at TC and other institutions, and to use the occasion of next fall's annual Equity Symposium to generate new research to provide answers or advance the debate on questions like, "Can we really achieve 100 percent proficiency in regard to meaningful standards by 2014? If not, is there a more a more realistic yet challenging output goal that the law should mandate? How can the needs of English language learners and students with disabilities be properly advanced by this law? And how can we ensure that teachers-'"especially those in hard-to-staff inner-city and rural districts, are truly 'highly qualified' instead of 'minimally qualified'?"
Drawing on two policy papers just published by The Campaign, Rebell argued that in addressing NCLB, Congress might take direction from the state courts that have ruled in school finance "adequacy" cases - those in which plaintiffs have argued that state constitutions guarantee students the right to a sound, basic education.
"Since 1989, there have been 28 major decisions in school finance adequacy cases heard in state high courts, and plaintiffs have won 21 of them," he told his audience. "Those victories have come in red states as well as blue, during an era generally dominated by the conservative political agenda. What that shows is that there is a deep and profound commitment to equity in
More specifically, Rebell said, the experience in the state court cases indicates that NCLB needs fixing on at least the following three fronts:
Adequacy of resources."There's a lot of talk in
Quality of education standards.In leaving it to each state to define "proficiency," NCLB has left the door open for states to game the system by lowering their standards. "At this point, it's more than fair to ask whether NCLB, contrary to its intent, is encouraging a race to the bottom to meet these increasingly pressured -'average yearly progress requirements by 2014," he said. Again, Rebell argued that the state courts have taken a more sound approach by conducting painstaking evaluations of what constitutes a quality education. "If you look at these cases, you find a virtual consensus definition," he said. "It includes sufficient ability to read, write and speak the English language; sufficient fundamen-tal knowledge of social studies to make informed choices about issues that affect one or affect one's communities; sufficient social and communication skills to work well with others and communicate ideas to a group - and much more." Such a consensus definition should be "built into NCLB as a substantive floor."
School capacity-building at the local level.
Schools and districts that are struggling to meet student achievement targets need not only money, but guidance on how to do a better job of developing curriculum and improving teaching. NCLB should "require districts in need of improvement to develop a multi-year comprehensive capacity-building plan," Rebell said. State education departments need to be encouraged (and provided the resources) to help schools in need of improvement with substantial technical assistance-'"including teams of distinguished educators-'"as states such as Massachusetts, North Carolina and Kentucky have done.
Rebell and Tisch also met separately with Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who originally co-authored NCLB, and Congressman Ric Keller, Republican of Florida; as well as legislative aides from the offices of Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut; and Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and from the House Committee on Education and the Work Force, chaired by Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, Republican of California.
"It's tough winning friends on both sides of the aisle, because there are some real ideological divides around education," Rebell said. "But ultimately, everyone wants to help children succeed."previous page