Teachers College last week announced a campaign to address equity in education across a range of issues that go beyond school finance.
The Campaign for Educational Equity wants to define “equity” in concrete terms, linking money needed to educate all public school children to high levels with specific strategies for closing gaps in their academic achievement.
Campaign leaders plan to combine research, public policy advocacy, and an annual report card assessing the nation’s progress toward closing such gaps.
“We want to see the issue of equity on the national agenda,” Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College, part of Columbia University, said in an interview last week. “We would like to see policy changes. We would like to point to some children whose achievement is higher in schools because of the work that we’ve done.”
The campaign aims to become a clearinghouse for research, examining strategies, such as preschool, that could boost achievement. That work would be presented to lawmakers and publicized nationally, through Web sites, for example, in hopes of making an impact on schools.
Mr. Levine said researchers involved with the campaign would meet with lawmakers, testify at government hearings, craft legislation, and speak to journalists.
The project intends to test its research in classrooms with the goal of producing national models. That work will begin through a partnership between the college and the New York City public schools.
To gauge progress, the campaign will publish an annual “equity report card.” Richard Rothstein, a visiting professor at Teachers College and the author of Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, is devising the report card’s indicators.
The report card, the first of which is slated to be released next year, will assess the state of equity in education in every state.
In addition, research symposiums will highlight strategies and tactics to address educational disparities. The first, scheduled for Oct. 24-25 at Teachers College, will focus on the economic, social, and political costs of an inadequate education.
‘Do the Right Thing’
Michael A. Rebell, the executive director and counsel of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, will direct the initiative, starting in September. He is the lead lawyer in a successful 12-year legal battle to increase funding for New York City’s schools, which are to receive $14.8 billion under a proposed settlement. (“Judge Orders Billions for Schools in N.Y.C.,” February 23, 2005.)
In the wake of legal victories in school finances cases in 19 states, Mr. Rebell described the Teachers College campaign as an opportunity to “do the right thing.”
“The bottom line is not just getting more money,” he said last week. “It’s how do we make sure we close the achievement gap?”
Some of the brewing ideas about what ingredients might help increase achievement among disadvantaged students stem from the comments Mr. Rebell heard around the city as a result of its finance case.
While he will continue to lead the legal team working on the New York City lawsuit, Mr. Rebell will step down as the executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.
Mr. Levine said Teachers College hopes to raise $12 million to finance the campaign over the next four to five years, roughly $3 million of which is now in hand.
“We don’t want to be the Heritage Foundation. We don’t want to be Brookings,” he said. “We want to let the data speak.”