NYU And Columbia Students Urge Bloomberg and Teachers Union To Settle A $300 Million Deal

On January 17th, New York City’s public school system will either gain or lose $300 million. That is the appeals deadline given by the federal government as a part of President Obama’s Race to the Top program, where states battle it out in standards to gain treasure chests full of funding from Washington. In total, New York State could receive $700 million to invest in classroom technology, projects for the future and other advantageous benefits for generations to come. All we have to do is come up with a revamped teacher evaluation system, and the money’s ours. Last January, Governor Cuomo was able to come up with a statewide agreement that would usher the money right into New York’s classrooms.

Except there’s one obstacle: the Big Apple’s educational politics.

The costly inability for Bloomberg’s Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers to sit down and come to an agreement on a teacher evaluation system is the focus of a new campaign spearheaded by both the NYU and Columbia chapters of Students for Education Reform (SFER). Last time we talked to NYU SFER, their goals on closing the achievement gap were much more extensive, but with this impending situation, President Sam Williams and Vice President Andy Barron explained that SFER now had a straightforward objective to accomplish: get these two parties to agree on something that will benefit the children of New York tremendously. “Once you start throwing that number around, someone’s gotta listen,” Barron said.

The relationship between the two powerful parties has always been on the rocks. In the eyes of the union, Bloomberg’s rule has come off as anti-union, disregarding the plight of the teachers and more concerned about solidifying his legacy. On the flip side, the Bloomberg administration has accused the union of forestalling necessary measure—and, to his credit, the Mayor has doubled the Education budget under his ten-year reign. As of now, the two sides are at a stalemate as their teacher evaluation system heads to appeals – a measure that extended last January’s deadline into next year. But the fear is that the union is holding off until Bloomberg leaves office next year; if that’s the case, the deal might be doomed from the start.

Matt Stern, the program director of New York’s SFER chapters, was the first to notice the urgency of the January deadline. And, according to Williams, the spotlight on that urgency has been non-existent: “There’s no press on it. Our point is to bring attention to the issue. If the people of New York don’t know that the state government is dangling $300 million in front of our schools and we miss that, that’s a huge deal.”

Since then, Williams and Barron have launched an effort that would combine the forces of the Columbia SFER chapter to “get the human capital and media capital and one way to boost human capital is by garnishing that media capital.” In order to do so, the student club is reaching out to elected officials, journalists and other student organizations to raise awareness on what could be a huge loss for New York. Also, to cap off the campaign, the chapters have announced a rally on November 29th in either Bryant Park or Downtown Manhattan that will hopefully draw hundreds of students.

Williams does not intend to put a SFER agenda on the event; instead, it will be seen as a grassroots rally held by college students and anyone else willing to join. He hopes to have at least 150 students come from both NYU and Columbia. But, before and after the rally, the focus will continue to be on coalition-building as Williams and Barron progress SFER’s goal to embody those looking to get active in afflicting change in the classroom.

And they have already come up with a slogan: “Get It Together, $300 Million, One Deal.”

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    9 Comments

  1. Jeff Kaufman says

    It is pretty clear that SFER does not understand what’s at stake and is looking solely at the RTTP money. Teacher evaluations based on high stakes testing criteria have been consistently shown to be unreliable at best and deleterious to student achievement.

    The so-called reformers have done everything they can to deprofessionalize education at the same time as trying to destroy whatever say teachers have had in the educational process. They believe anyone can teach and subscribe to formulaistic methodologies. I for one would not like to see any money lost but if it is lost because of the potential destructive nature of its mandates…so be it.

  2. Sam Williams says

    Jeff,

    What I believe is unique about this campaign is that it is actually completely apolitical and has no agenda to it. I don’t see anywhere in this article where it would lead you to the assumption that we are pushing for an emphasis on high-stakes testing. This campaign is about getting public and media attention the dispute and the $300 million that would essentially be gifted to the schools if adults could come together and make a deal. We’re not advocating for a side, whether it be the union or the DOE. Rather, we’re advocating for both sides to reach a middle ground by January 17th, which would allow for this 4% increase in funding.

    Do we think RTTP money is the solution to our schools’ woes? Absolutely not. The issues we face in education go far beyond the walls of a classroom. We’re not saying this campaign of ours is going fix education by any means. But $300 million is a lot of money that could have a direct impact on classrooms across the city in supplying them with pencils, books, among many other things.

    Also, on a personal note, I am a future career teacher. If you think I would look to “deprofessionalize education” you’re mistaken. I recognize the importance of having great teachers in classrooms (one of which I strive to be) as well as the importance of the prestige of teaching. Feel free to criticize SFER, but know that I would do nothing to defame what I believe is the best job in the world.

    With that being said, we would love to have you be a part of our rally on November 29th.

    Hope to see you there,

    Sam Williams
    Chapter Leader, NYU Students for Education Reform

  3. says

    Like Sam addresses, this particular article does not state what “side” they are taking. Yet, I am curious to know how NYU & Columbia SFER chapters do feel about teacher evaluations. SFER National signed onto the DFER letter this past August that encourages Arne Duncan to advance Obama Administration’s teacher education reform strategy which ties student test scores to teachers and their schools of education.

    [See: The DFER Letter SFER Signed Onto @ http://teacherunderconstruction.com/2012/11/05/the-letter-sfer-signed/

    Yes, I am aware that the chapters are “autonomous.” But, we cannot ignore the fact that SFER National required all individual chapters to sign an MOU committing to be “Mission Aligned” this past summer.

    [This is discussed further @ An SFER Chapter that gives me hope – http://teacherunderconstruction.com/2012/11/05/an-sfer-chapter-that-gives-me-hope/

    I support student action and their efforts to bring light to the issue and making the people of NYC aware of what is at stake. Yet, I also believe we need to be aware and cognizant of the group that is leading this “grassroots rally,” and what they may represent.

    I plan to be at this rally on the 29th.

  4. says

    A lot of this is nonsense. Matt Stern is the first to notice a January deadline? there is plenty of this that has been written about in the media, and Stidents First Ny has made this one of their major talking points for months, pressuring the union to sacrifice all principles and good sense and accede to a statistically unreliable teacher eval system that will allow the administration to take away teacher jobs based on junk science. If SFER wants to be useful rather than simply parrot the corp reform party line, they should come up with some ways that Bloomberg should compromise on their hard line anti teacher position. And by the way, we’ve seen this movie before. The UFT was pressured to agree to the Race to the Top program, saying it would provide $600 million “for the kids.” actually all the money paid for is more testing, data systems bureaucrats and consultants with not a single penny going to the classroom, and the distinct and state saddled with hundreds of millions of more costs because of its draconian requirements for yet more tests and computer systems to give more tests on.

  5. Ken Sheck says

    Sam, if you’re pushing for NYC to accept the Race to the Top money, you are, in fact, pushing for an increase in high stakes testing. To claim otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous.

    Evoking images of students getting pencils and books is misleading. It’s the “other things” that the money will be used for that’s worth fighting against. My guess is you actually do know that the money comes with lots of strings, requiring increases in testing, data gathering, and then using those test scores and that data to judge teachers effectiveness.

    One doesn’t need to do very much research to realize the questionable value of the test scores and the volatility of teacher evaluations based on those test scores.

    I’m a career-switcher in my 16th year of teaching, and your claim that you “recognize the importance of having great teachers in the classroom” that doesn’t ring quite true to me. I live every day in the chaos and dysfunction brought on by the current reform climate. I now spend days gathering data about my students that could better be spent obtaining useful knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and ascribe your stance to ignorance.

  6. Caitlin MacLaren says

    Race to the Top requires states and school districts that accept the money to tie standardized testing to teacher evaluation. While SFER may claim to be “apolitical” and may not be telling either side what to do, by insisting that New York accept money that comes with strings attached, you are in fact taking a political position.

  7. Betsy Marshall says

    There is no campaign that is completely apolitical. In the adult world, when money and careers are at stake, all issues are by definition political. Part of growing up and becoming an adult is realizing that it is necessary to determine who the players are in every political debate and that one must always choose sides. Implementing smart strategies and building coalitions to reach a determined goal is what it takes to be effective politically. Look at the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ groups for example….. unfortunately their movement will ultimately fail if they continue to remain apolitical. There is no quick fix.

  8. Myles Tanzer says

    Hi NYU Local Editor in chief here,
    There’s been a bunch of comments telling us that we’re deleting comments on this post. We have not been deleting any comments that follow our comment policy — that means you have to post a first and last name (last initial is okay if you don’t feel comfortable with the whole last name) as well as a valid email address in order to leave a comment.

    We will not be posting any comments that do not follow the policy.

    Thank you and I encourage you to keep debating this interesting situation.