How to Save a Failing School

Pedro Noguera, PhD, is a professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. He is also the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and the co-Director of the Institute for the study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings (IGEMS). An urban sociologist, Noguera’s scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment. Noguera has served as an advisor and engaged in collaborative research with several large urban school districts throughout the United States. He has also done research on issues related to education and economic and social development in the Caribbean, Latin America and several other countries throughout the world. Between 2000 and 2003, Noguera served as the Judith K. Dimon Professor of Communities and Schools at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From 1990 to 2000, he was a Professor in Social and Cultural Studies at the Graduate School of Education and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California, Berkeley.

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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How can a failing school be turned around?

Pedro Noguera: Well I say you have to focus on three areas and you have to focus on them simultaneously.  First you have to focus on the culture of the school, the attitudes, values, beliefs, the norms, the relationships.  Typically failing schools have dysfunctional cultures, a culture of blame, a culture where not working, not teaching is accepted and if you can’t find ways to change that you can’t really move a school, so you really need to focus on creating a culture that is focused on accountability, on achievement, on learning, a culture that is focused on creating stronger relationships between adults and kids with a clarity around mission.  

In addition to focusing on culture you have to address the systems in place, systems for how you make sure that the curriculum is in place, for how you make sure that interventions that draw on best practices are being applied to kids, systems that allow you to use technology effectively, that allow you to diagnose learning needs of kids effectively, so there are systems that also have to be put in place, so that the system that is at the school is not just dependent upon the whims of individuals, but it can function even if you have a change in teacher or principal, the school still functions as an organization that has a clarity around its purpose.

And then the third key ingredient is always leadership.  You have to have people in leadership roles who have vision, who have the ability to motivate, inspire the people around them, who have the ability to share responsibility, to mobilize and recruit resources for that school.  You need leadership to attract good teachers.  You need leadership to sustain good teachers because without a good principal in place teachers tend to suffer, so leadership is a critical variable in all this.  Leaders who know how to generate a sense of buy in from the staff and then from students and the parents are really what it takes to create highly effective schools.

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