Is Obama Flunking on Education?

Question: Why do you believe No Child Left Behind contributes to de facto segregation in the schools?

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Pedro Noguera:  Well basically No Child Left Behind doesn’t address it, hasn’t touched it.  You know here we have a law that you know if you look at the law itself it’s literally hundreds of pages long and no mention at all over about the need to create integrated schools.  Think about this.  By the year…  Most demographers project by the year 2040 or 41 we will be a country where people of color make up the majority.  To not prepare kids to function in a world where they’re going to need to interact with diverse groups of people I think is to deprive them and to deny them a good education.  There was a time in this country where we thought that was important, where we were willing to risk a high degree of polarization by busing people and you know finding ways to integrate communities and schools.  We’ve retreated from that.  Some of that is because of the courts.  A lot of that is because the lack of political will.  Where we are now as a country is accepting the idea of segregated schools and I think it’s like Plessy.  The idea of Plessy vs. Ferguson was separate but equal.  I think that’s where we are now.  We’re still not at equal, but I think that many people are satisfied with separate.  I think that that is a huge political problem.  I think they will never be equal because the way we educate our kids is directly related to the way we value not only the children, but also their parents and the communities they live in and so I see this as a major political challenge that there is not much leadership to address right now.

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Question: If there were the political will to solve the problem, how would you recommend solving it?

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Pedro Noguera:  Well I think we’ve had major setbacks in the courts, which have limited the ability to integrate schools, so you can’t cross district lines, for example, to create more diverse schools, so there are legal limitations out there, but beyond that one of the major reasons why schools are so segregated is because in many cities the public schools disproportionally serve the poorest kids, and what ends up happening when that is the case is that middle class people, affluent people don’t put their kids in the public schools, so you end up with a two-tiered system, a private one for the white and the affluent and a public one for the poor.  That’s New York City.  That’s Chicago.  That’s most cities across the United States.  The only way to address that is to significantly invest in the public schools, so that the public schools can really offer an education that the middle class would choose for their children, so I think that’s got to be part of the strategy.  You can’t attract white middle class parents unless you address the quality of the schools.  Now it’s also true that there is still bias.  There is prejudice and there are a lot of white parents who don’t want their kids in school with poor black and brown kids, and so I mean creative ways you could address that through magnet programs and other issues, but ultimately it does change of beliefs and my hope is that with time some of those attitudes will change too.

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Question: Has national education policy changed or remained the same under Obama?

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Pedro Noguera:  I think there is a lot of continuity from Bush to Obama in terms of education policy.  There haven’t been many major changes and I’m disappointed about that.  I think that neither the president nor the secretary is clear what was wrong with No Child Left Behind, and what I see coming from the administration so far is too much emphasis on charter schools and a tendency to frame it as a competition between charters and traditional public schools.  When you consider the fact that the vast majority of kids are in public schools I think that is a big mistake.  I just think if you don’t have a strategy for addressing the quality of education that children receive in public schools then you don’t really… you can’t really innovate and improve those schools, and so far I haven’t heard the administration come up with any ideas that sound particularly innovative.  They say they want to encourage innovation.  They never define what that means or what it looks like or anything else.

Recorded on January 28, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

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