Educational and Social Transformation

Speaking January 24, 2014 at the City Club of Cleveland, A Citadel of Free Speech, Pedro A Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, asked the question, “If education persists as a major issue on the national agenda regardless of all the other issues, why aren’t our schools improving?”
Faulting lawmakers, Noguera observed, “Those who know the most, have the least say, and those who know the least, have the most say.”

The American education system is a rare exception in the world: all children get a chance for warmth, supervision, warm meals. But it’s a weak and flawed system. Those same children are not being provided the knowledge they need for success.

“I love education like I love the Knicks,” Noguera said. “When I’m a fan, I’m tough on the Knicks. I’m critical because I remain a supporter.”

He appealed to the audience that regardless of whether a person has children or not, because the future of this country is based on how we educate children, all should be concerned about the plight of education.

He observed that City of Cleveland children come to school with far more needs than do the children of the City of Shaker Heights. He drew a direct correlation between the Achievement Gap and social, economic and health inequality.

Testing has become the one metric government officials have been able to throw at the problem.  Noguera, however, said, “Ask not how well they test (which translates with how they rank), rather focus on how to get kids excited about learning, so they’ll be excited to learn.”

Talent in sports is easy to cultivate – we have mastered training the body, and so we find star athletes everywhere.

But no so stellar students.

Noguera asked the Cleveland audience: “Do you love children as much as you love those Browns? The sports team may in shambles, but very likely the city will offer money to assist the sports team.  How easy is it to gather the same resources for the future of the children?”

The easiest children to educate are the affluent – because the affluent parents have been educating those kids since birth. The challenge is to provide non-affluent parents the educational-involvement skills so their children can be similarly prepared for success.

“PS 138, in New York City, is a place of excellence, amidst a difficult neighborhood.  It contains the only museum dedicated to history of the Bronx. All within easy reach of children. The children respect the museum, and nothing happens to it.

“I go to schools where kids are treated like inmates. If they behave, the students get access to the equipment – which rarely happens. At PS 138, the students are treated like special guests, and they respond as such.”

Tests hold schools accountable, but the metric fails miserably when schools get rid of problem kids to keep test scores up.  We must use assessment as a tool – not a weapon.

An audience member asked whether the Promise Neighborhood Initiative could help the situation.  Noguera responded that while it’s a good initiative, it’s extremely expensive.  Therefore, while the administration understands model is important, communities are forced to fund it themselves. Congress refuses to fund it.

Another audience member asked whether vouchers might be a solution. Noguera said a voucher is a strategy for individuals, not whole communities. Vouchers help create really good schools where the student with the voucher goes, but also creates “schools for losers: “We can’t afford to create schools for losers.”

“Water is nonpartisan. If I had it my way, education would be nonpartisan. But we’re stuck with the current situation – so the hope lies locally. For example, New York City is making preschool a priority.”

Appropriately, a Shaker student asked the final question: “What are the first steps for low income parents?”

Noguera responded that parents must believe in the partnership. He said that James Coleman found parochial schools’ improvement was directly related to parental involvement. Parents must limit TV, videos, and internet.

Engage children.