Sunday, November 21, 2010

Noguera Calls on CES Delegates to be "Critical Friends"

Scott Stephens | The Forum for Education and Education Blog
November 15, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pedro Noguera has had plenty of access to Obama administration policy makers. In fact, he sat down with 50 people from the U.S. Department of Education, who listened to his thoughts for 90 minutes.

"Then I left and nothing changed," Noguera, a Convener with The Forum for Education and Democracy, said in an opening address last week at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum. "I realized that the Obama administration was staying the course not just in Afghanistan, but in education."

More than 750 educators, parents, policy advocates and others attended the Fall Forum, the 25th year it has been held. Participants came from 33 states, three countries and more than 200 schools. They attended three days worth of workshops and sessions that ranged from engaging parents through social media to allowing students to design their own learning experiences.

The coalition's new executive board president, George Wood, announced that the 2011 Fall Forum will be held next November in Rhode Island. Wood, executive director of The Forum for Education and Democracy, is principal at Federal Hocking High School in Ohio.

Noguera, a New York University professor and director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, urged educators at the conference to continue to push for schools that matter for students, parents and teachers.

He suggested they should continue to push back against the forces that disparage public education and public school teachers. But he also warned against defending the status quo.

"I think we have to figure out how to respond," he said. "But we have to respond without appearing to defend the status quo. Our support can't be blanket support. It's got to be critical support. The way we've been doing business in many schools is simply not getting us the results we need as a nation."

As "critical friends," progressives in public education have to craft messages that include alternatives to the status quo, Noguera said. He said the notion of progressive education means nothing if it doesn't result in better schools for more students. Sometimes, those better schools are charter schools, he acknowledged. But because traditional public schools accept all children, they need to be our focus, he said. Not doing so will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, he warned.

"The whole issue is what kind of country are we going to be," he said.

Before Noguera spoke, Gregory Peters of the San Francisco Coalition of Equitable Small Schools urged participants to think about what "schools that matter" means, who decides what it means and for whom is it intended. As a high school student, Peters was told he was too poor to attend college. As a college student, he was told his education didn't matter because he had not attended an elite university.

"I had heard that my education did not matter and that I did not matter," he said. "The work of education equity is urgent. We have no time to waste."

Meanwhile, Nancy Sizer told participants that her late husband, Coalition of Essential Schools founder Ted Sizer, would be gratified that his work continues to prosper. Nancy Sizer, an instructor at Harvard University and a Convener with The Forum for Education and Democracy, said her husband favored conversation and collaboration over rigid, top-down dogma.

"He never wanted a 'Sizer Plan' to be, as he would say, 'implemented,' " she said. "He called our school-reform work a conversation among friends. Even if you never met Ted Sizer, you are, each one of you, his most treasured colleague."

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