Wednesday, November 30

Approaching the Gap in Student Learning, A Debate

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“If we treated our schools the way we treat our football teams schools would be fine” Perdro Nogura remarked on the topic of efficient budgeting for schools at the state level.
 On Tuesday November 29, The New School hosted a debate as part of the Institute for Urban Education’s Catalyzing School Change year-long speaker series. The conversation between Pedro Noguera a professor of education at New York University and Joe Williams, executive director of the Democrats for Education Reform centered on the role and responsibilities of communities, parents and the Department of Education in diminishing learning gaps between students.
Perdro Nogura who is also the Executive Director of  the Metropolitan Center of Urban Education and the Co-director of the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings started the conversation off “you cannot address the issues in schools in impoverished communities without addressing the issues of poverty themselves” he said. 
Joe Williams who is also a former journalist, enters the conversation by talking about his experience writing on education for the New York daily 10 years ago. He remembers when New York state stated releasing test scores for schools broken down by race.
“[The scores] showed that white kids in New York were getting a seemingly better education on paper than black kids,” Williams said.
Williams remembers calling all the black politicians and trying to get them to talk about how they saw and understood the gap in achievement to be true. “No one knew what to say” Williams suspected. “They had their own antidotes but the politics of education are weird. No one wants to sound like they’re against public schools.”
Nogura chimes in and says that the issues isn’t about race its about poverty. 
“The strongest indicator of how well a student will do on the SATs is income level and the number of years their parents were educated.” 
According to Nogura quite often schools in impoverished communities with large populations of low-income students also have high populations of needier kids (students whose primary language isn’t english or who require access to social services).
 He argues that these schools generally don’t have the best teachers or sufficient numbers of social workers and other networks of support that are necessary, and because of the way funding is awarded to schools on the basis of positive test scores they continue to lack the funding to attract good teachers and fund programs that might support their needs.
Both Williams and Nogura agree that poverty has profound affects on education but Williams feels still that increasing school closures would help increase budgets and support what is working. To an extent Nogura agrees but feels that if schools close without any assessment made as to why they failed the learning gap continues without any new attempt at resolution.
 For William part of the solution lies in effective teacher training and effective teacher performance neither of which both William and Nogura agree is being done now on a large scale in public education.
For Nogura addressing the learning gap means a commitment on behalf of the community to demand better performance when their schools aren’t doing well, an effort on behalf of parents to support their children, an effort on behalf of schools and faculty to understand the needs of its community and an effort on behalf of the Board of Education to provide schools with resources that address their specific needs and encourage collaboration with schools that are succeeding in similar situations.
“We need to be asking how to get students excited about learning. When we push for simplistic solutions and don’t understand the situation there will be casualties,” Nogura concludes.

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