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.”