Question: What education reforms need to take place within government?
Pedro Noguera: Well at the state and federal level basically what we need are ways to intervene more effectively in schools that are floundering, the chronically failing schools. Shutting them down is not a strategy for improving them. It may be an option that we have to consider, but we first of all need to figure out why were they failing in the first place and get at the root causes of failure and I think that I don’t know of any state governments, much less the federal government that has figured out a strategy for doing that effectively and so I would say that would be one big thing they could do. The other big thing that both the state and federal government have to do is to think about creative ways of linking educational efforts to economic development efforts. If you want to improve schools in Detroit you have to think what are the… what jobs are we preparing kids for in Detroit? If it’s not going to be manufacturing cars then we need something else. Otherwise you’re going to continue to have a mass exodus of people from Detroit or Cleveland or any of the other major industrial areas in the Midwest and Northeast, so we need to think creatively and strategically what are the jobs for the future? How do we make sure we’re preparing young people for the jobs of the future? And that is where state and federal leadership I think have come in much more than it has right now.
Question: What reforms need to take place within teachers’ unions?
Pedro Noguera: Unions need to make it very clear that the interest of the teachers are aligned with the interest of the children. Whatever is good for the teachers better also be good for the children and if not then it’s a problem. It should be the case that parents and children are in total solidarity with their teachers because they recognize that when teacher’s work improves that they also benefit. Right now in too many places that’s not the case. The teacher’s union has defined its interest in terms that are often antithetic with the children’s interest and that’s a huge problem. It’s a problem for the unions because it means a lot of times they’re not getting the political support they need and it’s a problem for the schools because too often the schools work for the adults and not for the children.
Question: Which policies that teachers’ unions support undermine the interests of students?
Pedro Noguera: I think just the fact that it’s so difficult to remove ineffective teachers is a real problem. It should not be that hard to get rid of people that we’ve evaluated and that we know are not effective. It should not be that you have a job for life just because you become a teacher. It’s too important a job and that not only when you allow ineffective teachers to remain in schools, in classrooms it not only hurts the children. It hurts other teachers because the other teachers then are… they often have to make up for what that ineffective teacher is not doing and so I think the union needs to… If the union really is ever going to professionalize teaching it has to take on much greater role of policing its own members. That’s what professions do. They evaluate each other and what is interesting is there are few districts in the country where teachers now evaluate each other and in those places they actually remove a much higher number of teachers than in districts where it’s done by administrators.
Question: How do parents need to change their approach to their children’s education?
Pedro Noguera: Everybody, I mean parents need to be very clear about what their role is in supporting their children. They need to understand that to the degree that they’re reinforcing the importance of education, that they are getting their kids to bed on time, to school on time, limiting TV and videogames, reading with their kids, all of that will benefit their children. All the research shows that when there is reinforcement at home for what goes on in school children benefit. It doesn’t mean that only college educated parents can do that. As I said earlier my parents… neither of my parents had college degrees, but they really understood and reinforced the importance of education. I think most parents want to see their children succeed, but what they need is help on how to help their children succeed and many parents are at a loss about how to do that.
Recorded on January 28, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen