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Schools Expected to Do Too Much With Too Few Resources

Photo by Ryan Lash.

NYU Professor Pedro Noguera says that efforts to improve schools in high-poverty areas need to involve a wide range of community partners. Photo by Ryan Lash.

In communities with high rates of poverty, “schools are really all that’s left of the safety net for children,” NYU Professor Pedro Noguera told a WNPR host this morning. Noguera was on the show Where We Live prior to speaking at a Hartford Foundation for Public Giving event.

Noguera has first-hand knowledge of the pressures educators and schools are under. He began his career as a classroom teacher and has spent extensive time researching, working in, and writing about urban schools. He is the co-founder of an effort called “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,” and is Executive Director of the NYU Metropolitan Center for Urban Education.

Noguera said that, for many poor children, school is the one place where they can get food and have access to some health care services and support systems. But schools don’t have all of the resources they need to fulfill all of their students’ diverse needs.

When added to the educational mission, Noguera says, “schools become overwhelmed, and, not surprisingly, fail.” And he says “their failure is a direct result of being expected to do too much.”

“When you expect the teacher to be the social worker, the psychologist, the teacher, and a mentor if the child doesn’t have two parents at home,” Noguera continued, “that’s really expecting way too much from a teacher, and it contributes to the likelihood of failure.”

Noguera argued that a wholistic reexamination of the public education landscape is needed. He said that efforts to improve schools in high-poverty areas need to involve community partners, families, and teachers.

“Leaders need to think about how to use the assets of a community to support children,”‘ he said. This can involve libraries, health centers, the local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club, and universities. “Right now everyone is working in a silo,” he said. “We’re not having a conversation across institutions.”

“We do need to focus much more on parents, on offering advice for how they can support their children,” Noguera said. He recognizes that sometimes families just aren’t there, however. “Some parents are negligent, and we need to compensate for that in schools.”

Noguera mentioned a high school he has worked with in the South Bronx where any student entering the school with a criminal record gets assigned a mentor that the student meets with three times a week. “That support makes a huge difference in outcomes,” he said.

Listen to the complete program with Professor Noguera here.

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