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Levine and Rangel Call for Better Teachers in Struggling Schools

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Charles Rangel

Congressman Charles Rangel

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Joint press conference aims to spur contract negotiations for NYC teachers

Congressman Charles Rangel and Teachers College President Arthur Levine issued a joint call yesterday for the creation of greater incentives for highly qualified teachers to work in New York City's most challenging schools. Speaking on the eve of the new school year, the two--who were joined by a panel of other speakers--aimed their message at both the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers, who are in the midst of negotiating a new contract for the city's teachers.

"We're here this morning because even though [Chancellor of New York City Schools] Joel Klein and [UFT President] Randi Weingarten both are saying, ‘Our schools need the best qualified teachers,' we're afraid that this issue will be complicated by other things," said Rangel, a Democrat who represents New York City's 15th district. "Our community wants to make sure that at the end of the day, qualified teachers will go into schools that need them the most, and that they'll be paid what's required to keep them there."

Rangel likened the inequities in New York City schools to the poverty and crumbling infrastructure in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.

"Everyone agreed that the levies in New Orleans needed repair. Everyone agreed it would take money to repair those levies. But everyone also agreed that there were other concerns that seemed greater. And I think everyone agrees that if those levies were in Southampton, they'd have been repaired," Rangel said. "Just as lives were lost in New Orleans, we're losing the lives of people locked into an inequitable system--people who need education as badly as the people in New Orleans have needed water and food."

Pointing out that "kids at Rikers Island can receive as much as $85,000 a year for maintenance," Rangel said that "improving education for the city's poorest children is not only the right thing to do, it's the economic thing to do."

Levine characterized the press conference--held at P.S. 123, one of four neighborhood public schools in which TC students read daily with young children--"a plea on behalf of the children in our neighborhood and our city--most of them black and Hispanic--who are being left behind." He said that "study after study has shown that nothing has a greater impact on student learning than a quality teacher" and asserted that "the victors in the negotiations between the teachers and the city must be the children."

Levine, who this past spring co-chaired a special Commission of the New York City Council charged with recommending best uses for additional public school funding the city expects to soon receive from New York State, reiterated the Commission's three-point proposal for closing the "teacher gap." That proposal includes the creation of a new career ladder for teachers, in which those with the most experience and strongest skills would be designated "master teachers;" a 10 percent salary increase for teachers who work in struggling schools, and an additional 25 percent increase for master teachers who make the same choice; and a comprehensive system for assessing teachers' performance and evaluating them for tenure.

"We're not recommending simply throwing money at the problem," he said. "We're urging an investment in our children. And we're going to make that investment. The only question is when. Do we make it at the start of children's lives--or later, when they're broken, and in prison or on welfare?"

David Jones, President and CEO of the Community Services Society--the city's oldest organization dedicated to fighting poverty--also drew analogies to New Orleans.

"We saw the fault lines there, and we see similar ones in New York City that are attributable to the educational deficit," said Jones, who co-chaired the City Council special commission with Levine. For example, New York has the highest rate, among cities with populations of over one million, of 16-to-24-year-olds who are neither in school nor employed--or nearly 170,000 young people. "That's the equivalent of a small city." Jones said. Just ten percent of the city's African-American and Latino students earn Regents degrees, Jones said, and 22 of its high schools have a zero percent graduation rate.

"Society doesn't understand that there's going to be consequences--that there already are consequences," he said. "We're edging towards 200,000 kids marching into the streets with no prospect of being productive citizens. Ultimately, they're going to drag down the city if we don't do something about this."

The other speakers at the press conference were Lorraine Monroe, founder of the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem and guiding force of the Lorraine Monroe Leadership Institute; Michael Rebell, Executive Director of The Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College; and Darlyne Bailey, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at TC.

"We already know what should happen and what the methodologies should be," said Monroe, who grew up in Central Harlem and has taught in New York City since she was 21. "The question is, do we want to do what needs to be done for the children whom the Bible calls ‘the least of these'? Because you have to pay for quality. It's what rich people pay for, for their kids--the ability to get smart, go to graduate school, and take no prisoners."

Monroe called for a system of training in which the best teachers and principals are paid to train others in their field--and then held accountable for the results. "Give them the resources, and let them choose their methods, because what works for School A isn't always what works for School B. And then, if they don't produce, they're out of there. I believe that's what's done in business, and it works."

Bailey, who has spearheaded the creation of TC's Education Zone Partnership--a partnership with the city's schools that focuses on Regions 9 and 10 and other under-served areas--said that broad partnerships between communities, universities, and business and political leaders are essential in addressing the educational needs of poor children.

"TC isn't riding into these neighborhoods and saying we're here to save the day," she said. "We're humbly offering our hand in partnership, in hopes that we will not only meet their immediate needs, but also develop, evaluate and share models for other cities. And I know, from my experience both here in New York and in Cleveland, where I lived for many years, that the eyes of those cities are on us, and that they are waiting."

Rebell, the attorney who co-founded and led the decade-long lawsuit that has won a $14 billion verdict for New York City's schools, vowed that the city would actually receive the money before the start of the 2006-07 school year.

"Quality teaching is the highest priority" for use of the funds, he said. "It's the highest priority of the Court of Appeals, which has said that funding must follow need. And what are the deprivations? Number one is the lack of qualified teachers for needy kids."

The next step, he said, is to build a similar consensus among parents, teachers, administrators and other stakeholders in the city's schools.

Rangel closed the press conference by vowing that he and the others who had spoken would continue to press the issue of quality teachers in the schools that need them most.

"We're talking about preventing a tragedy from occurring," he said. "David Jones described it in terrifying terms--the same terms, it strikes me, that were used to describe a Category Five hurricane."

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