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Michael Rebell to Lead Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College

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Michael A. Rebell

Michael A. Rebell - lead counsel and strategist in the nation's most prominent school finance lawsuit - has been named to lead the newly launched Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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Michael A. Rebell - lead counsel and strategist in the nation's most prominent school finance lawsuit - has been named to lead the newly launched Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University. The Campaign seeks to overcome the gap in educational access and achievement between America's most and least advantaged students.

The College announced both the Campaign and the hiring of Rebell at a press conference held today at its offices at the former Hotel Theresa in Harlem.

"We're here today to launch a new organization that will tackle the most urgent issue in education," said TC President Arthur Levine. "We're also here  to introduce the person we believe is the single most qualified individual in the country to head work of this kind."

Levine described the U.S. as a nation "with two education systems, separate and unequal."

"One chiefly serves our more affluent, suburban white children, while the other primarily serves low-income, urban children of color."

Citing statistics that show how poor and minority children significantly trail their wealthier peers not only in academic performance, but also in family wealth, health and health care, and ultimate avoidance of crime, violence and incarceration, Levine said, "That's what we're talking about at Teachers College when we talk about inequity in education. It's why we consider 'the gap' to be the educational equivalent of AIDS or cancer in medicine, and why - with the support of our trustees, faculty and students - we have made closing it the new mission of our college."

The Campaign for Educational Equity will focus on research (including an annual Symposium that will bring together experts from around the country, and a Report Card that will assess progress toward equity both at the national level and in each of the 50 states); rapid and accessible dissemination targeted at the media, government, school boards, school administrators, teachers, funders and other actors needed to implement research findings; and demonstration projects, including programs in schools and communities (particularly in New York City) that have the potential to become national models. 

It was that combination of scholarly and pragmatic focus that prompted the hiring of Rebell, said TC trustee Laurie Tisch, who as chair of the board of trustees of the Campaign for Educational Equity has set an ambitious first-year fundraising target of $12 million. Tisch, who currently chairs the Center for Arts Education, praised Rebell as "the real deal - someone who not only has the right resume to lead the Campaign but will elevate it with his brilliance, his knowledge, and the amazing things he has already accomplished for education in this country."

For the past 13 years, Rebell, a Yale Law School graduate, has served as executive director and co-counsel for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), which he co-founded with New York City Council member Robert Jackson. During that period, CFE has won a series of verdicts in New York state courts, culminating with the decision last November by a panel of special judicial masters recommending that New York City receive an additional $5.6 billion in school operating funds and $9.2 billion in school facilities funds from New York State. The legal strategy in the CFE case, crafted by Rebell, rests on the concept of educational adequacy, which holds that each child is constitutionally entitled to a sound, basic education. Rebell has helped publicize the adequacy argument in other states, resulting in a spate of victories for school finance plaintiffs over the past 15 years.

"Winning more money for schools is only the first step," said Rebell, who will continue to assist CFE with its litigation. "I'm taking on this new role because we have won the first half of this battle and now we've got to actually begin the process of improving our schools. And the idea that's got me excited is: Now we can bring to bear all the resources of Teachers College, the country's leading school of education, to make that happen. We can now move this stage of the equity campaign into a world-class institution where dozens of top scholars and policy experts are already wrestling with equity issues."

In addition, Rebell says, as a result of testimony gathered in the CFE case and other state lawsuits, he brings to his new job "the nation's largest database of potential solutions to problems like class size, teacher quality, pre-school and after-school programs, aging school facilities, multi-language issues and much more."  

Rebell is an experienced attorney who has specialized for decades in education law litigation, including special education, desegregation, school decentralization and testing. This past spring, he received Teachers College's Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Education. He is also the co-author of two books, Equality and Education and Educational Policy Making and the Courts. Previously an adjunct faculty member at Teachers College and Columbia Law School, he will become a full Professor of Law and Education Practice at Teachers College.

In creating demonstration projects - programs in schools and communities that have the potential to become national models - the Campaign for Educational Equity will build off a nucleus of existing partnerships between the College and the New York City public schools, collectively known as the TC Education Zone Partnership.

"The model here is very much an interactive one," said Darlyne Bailey, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at Teachers College. "We're not going into these areas and saying, 'Here's Teachers College to save the day, we have all the answers.' Instead, we're trying to forge a partnership with community and civic leaders, businesspeople, parents, principals and teachers."

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