Fordham Law

Joel Klein Speaks at Feerick Center's Flom Lecture

June 05, 2009

Joel Klein, New York City schools chancellor, was guest speaker at the Claire Flom Memorial Lecture, an annual event sponsored by Fordham Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice. Klein spoke of the disparities in the school system and ways in which New Yorkers could help the situation.

Joel Klein (2nd from left) with Joseph H. Flom, Nancy Flom Laing,
and Dean John Feerick.

"We have racial and ethnic achievement gaps that, to me, are the greatest shame of this great nation," said Klein, speaking in McNally Amphitheatre. "We don’t have to have them, and if we continue doing things the way we’ve been doing them, we will continue to have these gaps.

"It’s going to take an informed and committed citizenry to say 'no more' to an educational system that provides education based more on zip code than a child’s needs."

Two days after reports that city schoolchildren made much-needed gains on state math and English tests, Klein said there is still an educational crisis.

"I am here to assure you that we do not, in America today, provide every child with an equal education," Klein said. "Here we are in 2009, and yet we have the average African-American kid, the average Latino kid in high school four years behind his or her white counterpart."

Klein said that when he was appointed schools chancellor by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002, he heard from many who were not optimistic.

"People said, 'You’re never going to fix education in New York until you fix poverty,'" Klein recalled. "I believe that’s exactly backward. I believe the solution is education. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to address poverty, but education is key."

Klein pointed at U.S. Supreme Court appointee and Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor as an example.

"We should educate all of our children to enable them to think that what Sotomayor did is possible for every kid," Klein said. "Look at the story of my life, to grow up in a family where nobody ever went to college. My father never even made it to high school. I would not have been here today if the quality of my education mirrored my family’s income."

To address these racial achievement gaps, Klein said the quality of teachers must be scrutinized.

"Teachers change lives," he said. "At the heart of this problem, to be blunt and bold about it, is the fact that the most important thing in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teachers. Every study shows that."

The lecture is named in honor Claire Flom, a founding member of the Feerick Center’s advisory board and a philanthropist who was devoted to expanding education to the city’s poor. She became involved with the School in the 1970s and served for four terms on Fordham University's Board of Trustees.

Fordham Law's Feerick Center uniquely combines the insights of a think tank, the urgency inherent in a mission to achieve social justice, the balance required of a mediation center, and the educational mission of a law school to work with all parties to frame concrete and achievable solutions to the endemic problems plaguing the urban poor.

Contact: Stephen Eichinger