Harlem has benefited from relationships with Columbia University on issues like health, with the school’s trained experts and doctors dealing with health care discrepancies, but the Ivy League institution has also done its share of helping improve education uptown.
Congressman Charlie Rangel and Deputy U.S. Secretary Anthony Miller spoke to a group of Harlem school principals and policy makers on Monday at Columbia University to discuss the connection between the federal government and local schools.
The discussion was put together by Rangel and Columbia University’s Teachers College, which included professors Drs. Luis Huerta, Douglas Ready and Erica Walker. New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dr. Eric Nadelstern also weighed in on the conversation.
Speaking exclusively to the AmNews, Rangel said that the reason for having the discussion was because of the resources Columbia has to offer to an area that has historically had issues with education. Past relationships between the Harlem community and Columbia haven’t always been great, according to the congressman.
“I started taking a look at how poorly our schools were doing, and right in the middle of us, we have the mother of all educational facilities,” he said. “This is only a continuation of educating principals so they would be better able to educate their teachers and be more productive.”
New York State’s recent win in the Race to the Top competition secured nearly $700 million for state schools. Rangel said that the money will be used to make more productive citizens. The congressman used the example of sending a soldier to Afghanistan, which he said can cost the government $1 million.
“It proves that you can teach kids regardless of how you get them, you can teach them,” he said. “If that is logical, that means that the traditional schools are one of the main reasons they have a greater rate of failures because they don’t have the resources. While I’m very pleased with Race to the Top, I’m left with those who can’t get involved in the race, and this is what I have to concentrate on.”
Second in command to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Miller said that never has education been so important to the long-term health of the country. He reiterated the need for changes in education in America because the nation is lagging behind other countries and that it starts in the classroom.
Miller said, “When you think about improving our school systems, there’s nothing more important than the teachers who are in front of those students. There’s nothing more important than quality leadership and it has to happen in the local community. Harlem has great examples of these islands of excellence like the Harlem Children’s Zone. To celebrate that and take it to other parts of the country is the natural thing to do.”
With challenging issues in education, including a recent report about low graduation rates among Black males, Miller said that New York’s win in the Race to the Top competition is a step in the right direction.
“What Race to the Top really symbolizes is an alignment–an alignment on the state level, the federal level and the local level,” Miller said. “Also, we need to have a set of standards that are going to ensure that people have mastered the skills they need to be college-ready and career-ready. We need to have an assessment of what a student has learned that provides information so that teachers can really understand what’s working in the classroom and what can be done differently.”
Teachers College President Dr. Susan Fuhrman said that the college has an obligation to reach out to the Harlem community. Teachers and administrators at the school must do what they can to help problems in all types of schools in order to fulfill the nation’s obligation of creating students who are more competitive.
“Our purpose is to make a real difference, but we also have an obligation to our neighborhood,” Fuhrman said. “We’re here to stay and we must invest in our own community. We also think that our own students benefit enormously from interacting with students and parents in the community.”