Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, Joel Klein, told of his bold vision for change needed in public schools. He spoke on June 3 at the Fordham Law School’s Center for Social Justice on how public education is a path out of poverty. As Chancellor he is living his “passion, fighting for children in New York City.” When he became Chancellor he was told, you will never fix education unless you fix poverty, but he believes the opposite, that the solution to poverty is education. He grew up in public housing and would not be where he is today if his education had mirrored his family income. “What makes America America” is that you can come from anywhere and become a Supreme Court Justice.
Some time ago we tolerated “separate but equal” education facilities until Brown vs. the Board of Education charted a new pattern. But 55 years later we are still not giving children an equal education. He had three basic points. (l) We are still not giving children an equal education with racial and ethnic achievement gaps. (2) We don’t have to have these gaps. (4) We need people to make sure we do things differently and to stop doing things in the same way. Globally there are massive ethnic achievement gaps. He made a comparison saying Washington, D.C. schools are two years behind New York City in education achievement.
Emphasizing that unless we are willing to look differently at the challenges we face in the schools, we will not change the outcomes. The most important criteria he cited was the quality of the teacher. Unfortunately the lower level children get the “worst teacher.” Citing President Obama, he felt it was time to put the past behind us and establish rigorous national standards.
James Hennessy, Dean of the Fordham Graduate School of Education, added that reading is an essential skill children need and good teachers are made and not born. Through the centuries every society has trained children, those not achieving mastery skills were marginalized, In our society, some students don’t become proficient readers. He described the rigorous teacher training program at Fordham University. He felt the gap in student achievement can be closed by good teaching, citing a principal in New York City who had turned around her elementary school of 97% minority students which six years ago was achieving at the 30% proficiency level and now has 87% of student achievement at a proficiency level in reading and 97% in mathematics. A child born to parents from Puerto Rico is now nominated for Supreme Court Judge.
To Fix Poverty, Fix Education by Peggy Godfrey originally appeared in Westchester Herald, June 11, 2009