Dr. Pedro Noguera immediately struck me as a champion of teachers who really want to help their students, not just those adults who want to look like they are helping. Many of the most significant measures taken by teachers and principals often cannot be easily measured. Can kindness be quantified? So called “climate surveys” attempt to chart kind activities. Actions such as washing a student’s clothing or buying a student clothes and toiletries can be kept between that student and the helping adult. Why is a data chart, a test score or even numerical grade held up as holy writ while a teacher’s or parents’ narrative about how a student has improved their personal or academic lives is considered to be a little better than tinder for a fireplace? Professor Noguera is often quoted for his comments regarding Education Chancellor Joel Klein’s assertion that the success of a specific New York City Public School, P.S. 28, serving 40% homeless children occurred when the students, staff and parents used the city-wide data system, not because of the acts of amazing kindness performed within the school community, the partnership that the principal had formed with the local Boys and Girls Club, or the fact that she had carefully trained a great number of parent volunteers who work daily in the classrooms. Professor Noguera’s story was so compelling that many of us in the audience became physically distressed and disheartened that a tippy-top administrator would view school success in such limited manner and not notice all that Professor Noguera had described about this financially challenged, yet high-performing school. So many factors, (most of them people and not numbers) contribute to a school’s success. When I asked Professor Noguera what measures school staff in all communities could take in order to encourage more parent and community involvement in our schools, he suggested that we be extremely thoughtful in how we treat our parents. This month, Connecticut residents will have the opportunity to hear Professor Noguera, a father of five children, including a toddler girl, who last visited the Mystic area for a Connecticut speaking engagement. In addition to summaries of his careful research Professor Noguera shares anecdotes about the educational experiences of some of his older children in his excellent mainstream book, The Trouble With Black Boys…And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, And The Future Of Public Education. Those of us who live closer to Hartford are very excited to welcome Pedro to our capital city.
Most professional careers, including that realtor, plumber and even public school teacher require a certain score on a standardized test. I have personally known several reading disabled professionals who were able to pass standardized tests that are required for a certain license, despite the fact that the tests are written several grade levels above that person’s independent reading ability. How were these disabled individuals able to produce such a burst of super-mental strength on these test days that would insure a satisfying livelihood? How can we encourage our children to drive their own education, and to reach beyond limits such as a standardized test’s determination of a teenager’s reading ability as fifth grade?
Working as a high school reading specialist presents me with the challenge of teaching students who are reading at the primary level, alongside others who may be reading on their current grade level, but who have simply failed to excel on reading or writing sections of state standardized tests, and/ or reading and writing assignments in their other content area classes. I have used inspirational non-fiction texts as the main content for the reading class. We read books such as Ten True Tales, Heroes of 9/11 by Alan Zullo, The Code “Five Secrets of Teen Success” by Mawi Asgedom, and Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert by Elaine Scott. Sometimes, even these materials, which are considered to be young-adult content written at the elementary level, prove to be too difficult for some of the students.
One idea that is transforming education is that all public schools are moving from state to national standards, referred to as “Common Core State Standards” most educators are applying these ideas to their current curriculum. The standards from the Common Core (which have been adopted by public schools in nearly all of the fifty states) such as "speak audibly, and express thoughts, feelings and ideas clearly" can be traced from K to 12th grade. Nobody could possibly argue against these being important life skills for students of all ability levels. In order to practice proper speaking and listening skills, some students need to be presented with an alternative text.
The title of Professor Noguera’s upcoming presentation is “Who Is Responsible for Children’s Success?” Like Professor Noguera, most educators sometimes have more questions that go along with this concern than they have definitive answers. I encourage Connecticut teachers and parents to take advantage of this opportunity to hear Pedro Noguera speak. To register for the event log on to http://www.hfpg.org/events and enter the code NOGUERA. There is no charge for the luncheon event sponsored by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving at The Connecticut Convention Center from noon to 4 p.m. on January 30th, 2013. Immediately following Professor Noguera’s presentation will be a large group discussion focused on how individuals, organizations, and communities can contribute to children’s success.