Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pedro Noguera: How Many Barack Obamas are there in YOUR School?

Phrases and statements that caught my attention from Pedro Noguera:
"How many Barack Obamas are in our schools?"
"Students who are headed somewhere will behave differently than students who are headed nowhere."
"The easiest way to teach is the hardest way to learn." (As Alan November says: [a lot of] teachers were paper-trained!)
"Cemetery Teaching"

...which brings me to Pedro Noguera. On Friday I attended and presented at the Council for Prejudice Reduction conference. Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., professor at NYU, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and co-Director of the Institute for the study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings, was the keynote speaker. He was fascinating and I am sharing my hand-written notes here from his presentation, (no Internet connection at conference).

Pursuing Equity and Excellence in Princeton: 10 Principles to Promote Achievement for All Students

How do we do something about racial inequality in schools? Racial inequity breeds resentment.

Challenge 1: Equity vs. Excellence: Competing or Compatible Goals? We have to challenge the normalization of failure. Race and class should not predict achievement. We can't only send the most privileged to the good colleges. How many Barack Obamas are in our schools? We are good at measuring and sorting kids, but not so good at cultivating the talent out of kids who do not have the privileged life (i.e., no private tutors, English not the primary language, single parent families, etc.). We can't judge our schools by how good we are doing with the most privileged. It doesn't mean we get rid of honors/AP, but we need both. We have to start with a vision and a plan. The biggest obstacle is believing it can't be done. Schools have to accept responsibility as kids' educators and stop blaming the parents and the kids.
We also need to increase access to and support for rigorous courses.

Challenge 2: Educational leaders must be the guardians of equity. The common practice is to assign our least experienced teachers to the low achievers and the best teachers to our honors classes. Did you ever notice that parents won't allow 'bad teachers' to teach gifted classes? Parents of low achievers don't necessarily speak out -- they may not even speak English, and they are easy to discourage.

We have to encourage kids and push them to take harder courses and give them the support they need to succeed in those courses. Homework is an equity issue; kids might not have computers or parental support. As educators, we have to be willing to challenge each other to make change.

Challenge 3: The academic success of immigrant students is contingent upon how they and their families are treated. Immigrant students are the exception to the inequity pattern. They tend to be over-represented among successful and at risk students.
We need to have cultural competence among our staff. ELL classes should not be used to deny students learning opportunities. Schools serving immigrant children need a bi-lingual and bi-cultural staff as well as have relationships with social services agencies that serve immigrant groups. We have to remember that kids assimilate into our culture faster than their parents - and sometimes parents don't assimilate at all. Some of these kids are high risk for joining gangs where they become part of a culture. We need to find ways to make these kids part of our school culture. Immigration is both our past and our future. Immigrants do the work other Americans refuse to do and they do it for low wages. This is a big issue on Long Island. Supreme Court decision: even undocumented kids have the right to go to school.

Challenge 4: Demystify school success. Students who are headed somewhere will behave differently than students who are headed nowhere. When kids have a clear sense of where they are going, they don't make the big mistakes, such as teen pregnancy. We have to teach kids how to 'code switch' - kids that are not white and middle class have to become bi-cultural, they need to learn social skills, how they should look and speak. It's not fair, but it's reality.

Challenge 5: Build partnerships between parents and teachers/schools. We all know the parents that insist on being partners! They become head of the PTA, etc. But just because we don't see parents in school doesn't mean that they don't care. They might be working, etc. Public schools need to be explicit about what we expect of parents. Teachers need to build partnerships--that first call home shouldn't be about something bad. The one good thing about NCLB is that it demands evidence of learning of ALL students.

What works: Extended time and opportunity to work harder, longer, and under conditions that offer possibility of success.
What doesn't work: Grouping kids together in a remedial class with a weak teacher.

Reading and writing needs to be across the curriculum, regardless of the subject being taught. We need to rethink remediation. We must teach the way students learn rather than expecting them to learn the way we teach (differentiated instruction). The easiest way to teach is the hardest way to learn - in other words, cemetery teaching--lining them up in rows and lecturing.

What are effective teaching strategies?

  • Active learning - interactive classroom
  • Constructivist
  • Inquiry-based
  • Simulations
  • Socratic Seminars
  • Project-based learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Student leadership in the classroom
  • Public presentation of student work
  • Know how to relate to kids - notice that most students really like their coaches, music teachers, drama teachers. Why?? Because when you focus on performance you cultivate stronger relationships with students.
(My thoughts: educational technology helps facilitate many of those strategies.)

Teachers need to talk to each other and not work in isolation. Teaching and covering the curriculum is not the same as having conversations with your colleagues about what is working and what is not working.

At this point, Pedro ran out of time, which was most unfortunate! I could have listened for another hour. Lots to think about here and reflect on our own practices.

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