Inside NYU Steinhardt: Pedro Noguera Tackles Public Education with NYC Mayoral Candidates

This month, Pedro Noguera, director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, is moderating a panel featuring New York City’s mayoral candidates called, “The State of Education: A Conversation with NYC’s Next Mayor.” As the Bloomberg administration comes to an end, Noguera talks with At-a-Glance about some of the challenges that the city’s new mayor will face, especially when it comes to public education.

1). As a sociologist, scholar, and educator, you are able to look at the field of education from a number of angles. In your many years, wearing these different hats, what do you see as the top three issues plaguing public education? More specifically what are the top issues facing the NYC public education system?

The major issues confronting New York City are:

  • How to support the large number of struggling schools.  Mayor Bloomberg dismantled the Department of Education’s support system and replaced it with school support networks.  Given how many schools are under-performing, the next mayor and chancellor will need to devise a new system.
  • Struggling schools are in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Issues of racial segregation and concentrated poverty impact schools and student achievement.  These issues have largely been ignored for the last 12 years.  Hopefully the next mayor will address them in a more effective and systemic manner.
  • Certain sub-groups. English-Language Learners (ELLs), students with learning disabilities, and African-American and Latino males, have not been well-served by schools in New York City for the last several years, and many schools will struggle in meeting their learning needs as Common Core is implemented.  Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for implementing the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) but its too early to tell if it will result in significant changes for this population.

2). How did we get here? When did the system begin to show signs of disappointment?

There have been several important areas where progress has been achieved under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership.  Many of the new schools, both public and charter, are quite good and there are now better school choices available to a number of children in the city than there were before.  However, some schools have been deliberately over-populated with very high need students and this has contributed to the problems they face.  The Department of Education has done very little to address this problem.  It has focused on holding schools and teachers accountable, but has done very little to build capacity within schools to meet student needs and never defined how the mayor and chancellor should be held accountable for the performance of the system.

3). Is policy the real solution to these challenges?

Policy is very important.  If you look at the countries that are making the most progress in education (e.g. Canada, Singapore, and South Korea) they are pursuing very different policies.  The province of Ontario has seen a drastic decline in the number of struggling schools and made significant increases on all measures of student achievement.  This can be attributed to their willingness to address the effects of poverty on children and schools, and their focus on providing targeted support.  My hope is that the Obama administration will adopt these types of policies in its second term.

4). Can higher education play a role here? How?

Universities and colleges must play a more active role in supporting public education but it most go far beyond teacher education. We must utilize the intellectual resources of our universities to enrich school curricula, to provide supplemental educational opportunities to educators, and to expand academic and social services available to children.  We can do this through the development of mutually beneficial partnerships that promote high quality research, training and service.