Pathway to Excellence and Equity in the AC-Stage of Education (After COVID-19)

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Dr. Pedro A. Noguera is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Faculty Director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. He is a sociologist whose scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions as well as by demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening and welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I’m your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of VFE. I want to be the first to tell you Happy Black History Month. And we are starting to officially kick off our Black Excellence series. And I wanted to bring in a special guest who I just have admired for a long standing of time. He is one of the titans in education. I was just talking to Dr. Noguera. I haven’t seen him in a while. This is going back to about 2009, 2010. I’ll never forget this. Dr. Noguera, you went email. Well, this is when you were at NYU, and I was just about to start writing my little review. And I was reading a couple of your books, and I really wanted to go in depth with it. And Dr. Noguera, I emailed you figured that you weren’t going to email me back. You e-mailed me back and I said, All right, let me email back and let me see if I can get a meeting with him. I got a meeting with Dr. Noguera at NYU, and that was so long ago. So when we talk about accessibility to some of the smartest or one of the smartest be, in my opinion, the smartest mind and education, it is just an absolute honor to open up the Black Excellence series with the Dean of Education for the USC School of Rossier educates, I say correctly. Rossier, yep. Rossier, yup. Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. A warm welcome to Dr. Pedro Noguera. Dr. Noguera, such an honor. How are you?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

I’m great. It’s a pleasure being with you, Michael. Thanks for inviting me to appear with you on this program.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Absolutely. And I use this platform, Dr. Noguera, as an asynchronous professional learning platform to deepen and strengthen leadership androgogy for our leaders that participate or that tune in to my podcast. So please Dr. Noguera, this will be an honor to have you unwrap the research, the theory, and also the leading practices in education so we can reach sustainable, equitable systems. Right? All right. But, Dr. Noguera, this first question is a one question. Okay. And when researchers, economists, sociologists and educationalists take holders unpack the work of Dr. Pedro Noguera or participate in a class or a keynote session with you, what song comes to mind to describe your leadership signature within the field of education?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

You know that I saw the question, and it’s actually challenging for me. So on a number of occasions I’m asked when I go to speak, if there’s a theme song that I like to use, and it’s almost always Bob Marley, I like the song, you know, let’s get together and it’ll be all right. And because I like to be positive. But I would say that to my critics, it what probably is the song that comes to their minds is Here He Comes Again, right? You know, I’ve been pretty consistent over the years of raising certain issues about the need to pursue equity and what gets in the way of that. And and I think that although at times that message resonates for my the people who don’t agree with me, I think that it to them sounds like I’ve been beaten the same drum for a long time.

Dr. Michael Conner

Dr. Noguera, I love it. Here He Comes Again by Bob Marley. Love Bob Marley. Right. Let’s get together. Everything’s going to be okay. But here he comes. And when I think about that, right, the coalition nation of educational leaders, transformative leaders who understand and underscore equity as a or throughput within their practices. Yes. Here they come again. Right. You hear kind of like the rhetoric, I should say, of how equity is polarized, how it is politicized. But again, in order for us to pursue this level of equitable systems and creating learning business that are culturally responsive, we have to keep coming again. Dr. Noguera, absolutely. So Dr. Noguera, you have I’m telling you, everybody has written or yes, everybody has used your work and there’s literature review. Everyone I talked to has used their work and use your work in their literature review. But when we look at the post-pandemic era, I like to call it the A.C. stage of education after COVID 19, what are the core priorities needed in the context of leadership to achieve equity and excellence for all?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Well, you know, I always get concerned that when we use these terms, they will become nothing more than a slogan. And the substance of it gets lost. And so, you know, if you think about No Child Left Behind, No Child Behind was a policy that we thought would lead to all children getting what they need. But as we know, millions of children are left behind. And that’s because we still have inequities in our schools. You know, if you live in an affluent community, you tend to have schools that are well resourced. You live in a poor community. That’s typically not the case. And that’s true throughout America. In our cities, the wealthy go to private schools, the poor go to public schools. You know, these are the patterns we see and we accept that as normal. And then we wonder why our society stays so fragmented, why poverty say so entrenched, why achievement gaps remain unchanged. And, you know, it’s a direct byproduct of the inequities in the way we support education in this country. So I think that if we’re going to make the pursuit of equity and excellence real, then we have to start by asking what do children need and what are we going to do to deliver those needs? There was a report in The New York Times today about a study done by a group called Common Sense Media. And what they did is a poll of kids and families about how they think about education and their future. And the results are quite depressing because a lot of young people are feeling pretty hopeless right now about the future, feel like the political system isn’t working for them. I feel like, you know, that the threats to their ability to live even as well as their parents are great. And, you know, mental health needs a rising. And so to the degree that schools in that respond to these kinds of issues, schools become irrelevant to kids. And I think that’s what and it’s not just K-12 schools. It’s higher education as well. And I think we’re in a place right now where we have to really examine what we’re doing and ask ourselves, are we addressing the needs of our students right now, knowing that those needs are not simply academic, They’re also social, emotional and psychological, and even in a certain way, spiritual.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. And Dr. Noguera, a great point that you highlighted. I want to touch upon the question. Right. Of what do children need? And when we look at the needs of our students and use in let’s say that great inequities or equity is becoming a slogan, how can we now limit right limit these practices or continuously to ask these complex and hard questions around what do children need? So equity won’t become a slogan where it becomes realized and our learning organizations throughout the country.

Dr. Pedro Noguera

So, you know, it doesn’t take a whole lot of research to know that hungry kids don’t do well in school, that kids who are poorly housed won’t do that well in school. The kids who haven’t seen an eye doctor will have trouble reading that basic needs impact learning. But we don’t have a strategy to address those needs. And so consequently, what we see in our schools is that the kids with the greatest needs do least well. And it tends to be we give those schools that serve those kids, at least in the way of resources. So we compound the problem. And then on top of all that, we assign, you know, that they don’t always get the best teachers. They don’t always get the best facilities. So instead of education being a pathway to a better life or too many people, education reproduces the same inequities that we’ve seen. And that’s what we really have to challenge. How do we make education live up to its potential to serve as a means for people to, you know, pursue a better life, to get the opportunities that are available in this country?

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Thank you, Dr. Noguera. And I remember in a keynote speech that you were given, you talked about if students basic needs are not met, he or she will not learn. It goes back to your empirical research around structural factors and external factors. Examine external factors in relation around the economy. When I look at external factors of structural factors, influential factors that impact achievement. So, Dr. Noguera, in a recent interview that I saw you when you highlighted that authentic engagement is the pathway to achievement. Now, because of the pandemic, we have accelerated into the digital age paradigm with the exponential rise of A.I. and emerging technologies. Now, Dr. Noguera, if you can, can you define engagement with A.I. and how can leaders create this multivariate strategy that invites agency and engagement?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

So I’ve been actually writing a number of editorials recently about artificial intelligence, both in terms of the threat it creates as well as the potential it creates as a tool. Right now, I’m particularly concerned about the threats because as we know, the technology is being released and made available faster than our ability to control it. So I want you to think about this for a moment. Forms of artificial intelligence have been around for a long time. Think about spell check ups. One of the things we know about these kinds of technology is that they can make you lazy, right? A lot of people can’t get home without chips anymore because they rely on it. There are a lot of people that can’t spell, but they need spell check that can’t be left below. We be awesome. What’s their children’s phone number? They don’t know because it’s in their phone, Right? So in fact, they call it a kind of digital memory loss. We too are used to the technology. You don’t use the part of the brain that you once relied on. Right. And with generative A.I. that can help you with writing and all other forms of creativity. And we run the risk of another generation that become even lazier because they’ll rely on these tools, which will then prevent them from developing those skills and that knowledge themselves. So that is the fear I have right now. Yeah. And the other side, I see the potential or A.I. as a tool. We’re seeing that I can be used to provide teachers with guidance on how to meet the needs of individual students. You know, you think about the typical teacher might have 30 students in the class. How do you get feedback to each student without being overwhelmed just by the amount of grading you have to do? Well, A.I. tools can help with that. And so there are ways in which I can enhance what we do in education. But we need to make sure is that we’re not doing what I just described, although relying on it in ways that actually weaken us.

Dr. Michael Conner

Great point, Dr. Noguera. You talked about I’ve been around I remember in 19 I was reading something in 1956, 1956, John McCarthy defined what A.I. is. And when you talk about digital memory loss, right. And looking at Generation Z and Generation Alpha because of generative A.I., there I think there is or could be a this is more of a hypothesis that students right now, generation after Generation Z, they won’t have to have a primary focus with coding because generative A.I. will be able to do the coding for them. Compelling. And when you talk about generative A.I., we know these large language models are within that. I just recently heard that they’re creating small language models to be able to help, let’s say special education departments become more efficient, and they provide in our recommendations with that. So I think that will be coming out within the next 6 to 8 months of what I heard. I don’t know. But I know that they’re working on these small language models now that integrate. When we talk about digital memory loss right there, there’s this compelling sentiment that we always hear in education. And I just want your perspective of this is that there is a fear that A.I. and generative AI also emerging technologies will replace the classroom practitioner. Now, you highlighted some of the success points that I can bring, but can you dispel that misnomer? And what is that? I like to say reciprocity, right? Minding the gap between humans and machines, but looking at it from a practitioner and A.I., how how do we mind the gap to ensure that there’s that level of synergy and to dispel that misnomer that AI’s going to take over everything?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

You know, I’m not sure yet, and we’re trying to figure it out, you know, in the hands of an expert, someone who has expert knowledge, A.I. can be a very effective tool. You know, so, for example, if I’m writing something, I might use A.I. to help me figure out, okay, how should I? What are some ways in which that could approach studying drafts? And I’ll generate a bunch of ideas. Well, dress it by example with the experts. Address they schools in L.A.. But I can look at it and I could easily figure out what what, what they given me is useful. What’s not useful? I don’t accept it all because I know enough about the subject to know that not everything that they produced from mining the data is useful or even accurate. Yeah. I’m a novice. Use it. I wouldn’t know that. Right. And that’s the danger, right? We have a lot of students who, you know, still learning, don’t know much and can easily be liable for A.I.. And we’re seeing now a colleges that’s why some colleges try to ban it where they’ll use it to write a paper. And they don’t even realize that some of the sources in there are bogus sources. Right. And so I think it’s really a question of how it’s used and by whom in the hands, again, of an expert, it could be very effective in the hands of a novice. It could not only make you lazy, it could also contribute to plagiarism, inaccuracies and other problems.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you, Dr. Noguera, for your perspective on that. I love how you said is ongoing. Right. And it’s validated learning right now. We’re going to continue to experiment. We’re going to continue to interrogate research and then put in practice and learn from that. But from commercial insight when starting, Dr. Noguera, there are compounding influential factors that I believe are forgotten when we think about or talk about school quality or even district quality. You have been one of the leading voices in education to curtail and combat poverty and homelessness. You stated in a keynote speech again that if a student’s basic needs are not met, they’re not going to learn. So with now, the national poverty rates and homelessness increasing in the United States, what do you suggest districts could do? Or how could we be innovative in the context of funding structure models so that this variable of poverty does not impact future economic trends?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Yeah, you know, you have to have a holistic vision for children and by that I mean realize that the educational needs, the social needs, psychological needs are all connected. And once an educator, a leader, understands that and they understand what the needs of their students are, then they know they need partners and they need to engage the community in supporting the children. And so a partner, a partnership, could be working with the church to provide mentorship for kids, particularly kids whose fathers aren’t present, those kids at parents who are incarcerated. It might be a partnership with the local hospital to make sure that some of the health needs are being met or with a college or university, depending upon, again, the needs. Now, if you’re in a city like I am, building those kinds of partnerships is easier If you’re in a rural area where those kinds of, you know, entities are not immediately available. It’s much harder. So what we have to do is think creatively and resourcefully about who are our partners, How do we build these relationships that allow us to meet the needs of kids? Because the truth is, schools can’t do everything by themselves. But kids, you can’t ask a teacher to also be a social worker, a psychologist and a surrogate parent. We need other parties in the lives of kids if we’re going to address those needs.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. Noguera, this is a follow up question, or subquestion to this is that when we look at school quality, when we look at district quality and just we break them with these linear summative metrics, right? We don’t take into consideration what I like to say, the sensitive measures, the needs that you’re talking about, poverty, honest social mobility, all of these compounding factors that play into or that come into our schools now obsolete of, you know, just looking at it from a linear context of academic growth and academic achievement, how can we truly define school quality? How can we truly define organizational quality for education?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Well, you know, you have to look at at student outcomes, right? Like what? What of this? You know, what a student’s able to do as a result of their education? Are they what are their skills like? Where do they go? Are they going to colleges? Are they able to improve their lives? So you need to look at outcome measures, but you also need to consider whether they start right. If you are in a school that serving a low income, disadvantaged community, you actually you have a much greater challenges than if you’re the school serving advocates. Right. It’s it’s a little bit like, you know, if I’m the coach of the Lakers and I start out with LeBron and Anthony Davis, very different situation than if I’m the coach of I don’t know you give me another team.

Dr. Michael Conner

Please don’t use our Knicks, Dr. Noguera please.

Dr. Pedro Noguera

I’m a former Knicks fan, right with the Knicks looking pretty good this year right so they the better but looked they weren’t. You know you just you have to work with what you have. And the sign of a great team is they they get players to play better together side the great school is this growth that just because kids have because what we know is just because kids have economic needs doesn’t mean they can’t learn. It means that you have to figure out, okay, how do we create conditions in the schools that allow us to meet those needs and keep the kids challenged, keep them stimulated? Does excellence is possible in all communities if you get the conditions right?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Dr. Noguera, Conditional data. I always talk about it. Talk about form data, perception, the data and the new data category. I’m really trying to unwrap measures, conditional data for students, but we’re forecasting, Dr. Noguera, obviously, you know this, that 57% of public education will be black and brown. You’re at the USC School of Education, and we you know, talk about teacher prep programs. We talk about, you know, leadership programs. But how would you redefine leadership in teacher prep programs or professional learning to be more culturally responsive and learning organizations in classrooms that are aligned to this new demographic percentage of 57% being black or brown?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Well, you know, and I have to say that, you know, I’m proud of the fact that not only is our student population extremely diverse with majority of but overwhelming majority of our students are students of color and women. But many of our faculty are as well. So, you know, but so it should be reflected in what they learn. That is, the curriculum, the materials that they’re exposed to, but also should be reflected in in what we’re asking them to do, our students to do with respect to how they use knowledge. We have been committed to making sure that our students who particularly those who are getting a doctorate, are doing research that’s designed that aims at helping schools to improve and and that can be applied in real schools. And I’m encouraged because I meet my students all over the world. You know, over 80 of the Super Dennis in California are our graduates. I was in Ghana this year and turns out the Minister of education is a graduate of our school. And I was very pleased when I met with him and spoke with him. He said, you know, a lot of what he learned to lead the Ministry of Education in Ghana. He learned in L.A., he learned through USC. And so to give you an example, he doubled the enrollment of students in secondary schools in Ghana within a year. Wow. He said, I did that because I borrowed an idea from L.A. The idea was they said we could increase enrollment because we need the space. He said, Let’s do year round schools. We have we had the same number schools. We will rotate kids in at different time to get more kids served. And so that kind of resourcefulness, but that kind of vision is what I think we need from leaders now, because we can’t wait until we solve poverty and equality before we educate kids. We’ve got to do it now. Got to get it done.


Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Dr. Noguera, having a steadfast vision and staying on the course in a daring where it could get bumpy, where, you know, challenges can arise. But again, the pathology around that vision and staying steadfast to it, that together, I want to ask a question about what occurred. Derek. All right. So in the D.C. stage of education, I like to call it derecho, but 19, it was the first time we really, truly focused on families and students. For the first time in a while, standardized assessments and percentiles of students were secondary. It created new learning for all of us, specifically in an ecosystem where there was a focus on, I like to say, the whole child, whole school in whole community continuum. How can we continue those strategies from the d C stage of education where some of these practices are necessary for Generation Z and Generation Alpha?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Yeah, I mean, Colgate was to me an opportunity, an opportunity to disrupt what wasn’t working. You know, we saw many families were overwhelmed during COVID because, you know, they were not working. They were dealing with sickness. The kids were on and doing Zoom school. And some kids did okay on the zoom on virtual learning. A lot of kids did it. And now we’re seeing the effects of many kids very far behind academically because they basically did two years of no education. So but what we have to I think to me, one schools as they reopened we had it we there was an opportunity to change things. So to really center the needs of kids, to think about a more holistic vision, which we knew a lot of kids that were in isolation too long, and we’re seeing them come back to school. They don’t know how to act with other kids because the socialization didn’t occur. And all of that, again reminds us of the importance of this more holistic framework. So I think the pandemic was an opportunity because, you know, change requires disruption, right? And the status quo is in many ways the biggest obstacle to change. A problem is that many schools just reopened and went back to doing the same thing they had been doing. And it was an opportunity lost.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Opportunity and challenge. Right. And, you know, paying attention to these opportunities. When you talk about disruption, I always look at it in a two part phenomena, drivers and signals, right? Focusing on those drivers signals to be able to have strategic disruption for that opportunity. But Dr. Noguera, do you feel that student student outcomes or student growth is being exacerbated because of the fact that when we went back into our schools and the stage of education, the status quo became permanent again?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, you know, and that’s one of the reasons why I think we’re seeing chronic absenteeism. You know, a lot of kids and their families say, look, you know, this is not appealing to me. This is not attractive. And, you know, you know, you know, what do we try to get kids come back to? You know, where’s the joy in learning? Where’s the the support kids need? So I think that because we missed that opportunity, now we’re seeing we’re struggling with getting kids back in building getting kids performance back up. And I think we still have a chance to change it. We don’t have to go back to the way it was. And some families are saying, look, I’d rather do home schooling now than that. Send my kids at all or up or something different altogether. So public schools are going to stand a chance of staying viable. They’re going to have to really think, how do we become more responsive to the needs of the students we serve? Unbelievable. More responsive to the needs of the students that we serve.

Dr. Michael Conner

Dr. Noguera, That is compelling, because I always say this when I keynote nationally and internationally, is that generation out for Generation Z? Their everyday lives experience is with Netflix, but then they matriculate into education institutions that operationalize themselves. Blockbuster. So we already got it. We already have a design gap right there. And Capella, when you said with the chronic absenteeism, which I concur with, that we need to get our kids strategically and fundamentally engaged. But last question and Dr. Noguera, you made me happy all the way through. But what three words do you want today’s audience to leave our podcast episode with regards to equitable reimagination processes to create a pathway of excellence and equity in the AC stage of education?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Well, I would start with engagement that you mentioned and think about. Engagement is multidimensional, it’s behavioral. You know, our kids in it, are they involved? Are they actively learning? But it’s also cognitive. Do they understand what they’re doing? Are they making connections? And it’s emotional. Do they care about it? Are they passionate? And if you focus on engagement, what you end up doing is you create schools that where kids are taught the way they learn instead of be expected to learn, the way teachers teach right to schools. There’s a lot of passive learning, kids sitting and listening to a teacher talking, and most kids don’t learn that way. You talked about Netflix. A lot of kids are on YouTube, right? And because YouTube teaches you how to do the things, you know, and it’s more interactive and that’s where a lot of kids learn. So the first word is engagement. The second word is we need to make tap into curiosity. Do we know that curiosity kids are naturally curious when they’re small? They want to learn. They want to know. We also know that if you cultivate curiosity in a person, they will become self-motivated as well, because they’ll keep seeking knowledge, they’ll keep seeking answers to questions. Self-motivated people get control over their own education, and that’s what we should be after Kids who don’t have to be told what to think or told what to read. They’re seeking it out on their own. And that’s really a byproduct of curiosity, of that natural desire to learn. So curiosity is critical. And the third thing that’s critical is hope. You know, you have to have a sense that through education you can create a better life for yourself and your family, that you can address the problems facing your communities, basically the world. We need to instill hope, but hope can’t just be based on some naive and a promise. It has to be based on something real, has to be based on a genuine feeling that I have some degree of control over my life, and I can use knowledge and education to make my life better. When you bring those three things together, I believe those are the ingredients for success in education.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you for that, Dr. Noguera. Multidimensional engagement, cultivating curiosity and instilling all the ingredients for success. That in the era, as I stated at the outset, it was such an honor to have you on Voices for Excellence in the opening episode for our Black Excellence series during the month of February celebrating Black History Month.

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Well, it’s an honor to be with you, Michael. And you know, it’s good that you’re focusing on excellence in Black History Month. I try to remind people that when slavery ended in this country, the first thing that formerly enslaved people wanted was education. That’s what we created. Schools. We started out because we knew that it was the key to freedom. An educated person can’t be controlled by someone else. And that was true then, and it’s still true now. So for Black History Month, this is I think a perfect thing, so thank you.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you, Dr. Noguera. And if my audience, if they have any questions, how would they be able to reach you by email?

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Yeah, they can send me an email Rossier.Dean@USC.edu.

Dr. Michael Conner

Dr. Noguera, again, such a pleasure and an honor. Listen, I’m up here in New York and it’s 33 degrees. I remember you left me over here and you went all the way out to L.A. to enjoy the sun. But again, like I said, I’ll never forget when you took my meeting 2009, when I was developing my literature review. You still look good.

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Thank you, Mike. You’re looking good, too.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you. And on that note, onward and upward, everybody. Have a great evening.