Pedro Noguera, the NYU professor and all-around authority on urban schools, had lunch with Chancellor Joel Klein the other day. The two aren’t natural candidates for a lunch date: Noguera is a co-founder of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a national effort to rival Klein’s Education Equality Project. But they had recently spoken on a panel together and found that they agreed about a lot. So they decided to have lunch.
There, Noguera urged Klein to visit an elementary school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, PS 28, which Noguera said epitomized his thoughts on what makes a strong urban school. Noguera said that its extended school day (some children stay until 5:45 p.m.), social services, professional development for teachers, and focus on emotional as well as academic growth have helped it become an impressive school, despite being challenged by serving a large number of homeless students.
Klein visited the school “the very next day,” Noguera told me in a telephone interview. It made an impression on him, too, and soon he wrote a memo to all principals in the city urging them to visit PS 28 (The memo was included in the April 7 Principals’ Weekly newsletter, and is reproduced below.)
But Noguera told me on the telephone that he was struck by what Klein’s memo emphasized about the school — and what it did not say. Namely, Klein talked about the importance of a strong principal and of analyzing students’ test scores, but not about addressing children’s non-academic needs, the focus of the other programs Noguera admired.
Here’s what Klein wrote to principals:
I met a leader, Sadie Silver, and a school community that is committed to showing that all children can learn at high levels. Teachers at the school use ARIS to access student demographic and assessment information whenever they need it. They also know how to use that data effectively – one of the core pillars of Children First.
The school has engaged parents and its surrounding community to an unusual extent. For example, it uses reports from ARIS to provide parents with information about their students’ progress. The principal has also created a blog on ARIS Connect to share insights on new learning to motivate the entire school community.
“He focused on the wrong thing!” Noguera told me on the telephone. “I told him to look at the full picture, all of the things that they were doing. I sat in on a session that was how teachers can respond to the social-emotional needs of kids. A lot of people are stuck on this idea that there’s only one way to go about educating urban kids: It’s the KIPP way, it’s very regimented. I mean, this school, it’s not like that at all, and it’s doing a great job.”
The school wrote its own memo, at Klein’s request, for other principals to read, which I’ve uploaded here. The memo also focuses heavily on accountability practices that Klein implemented, including the ARIS data warehouse and Acuity tests meant to diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Told of Noguera’s critique, a spokesman for Klein, David Cantor, said, “The school’s doing all kinds of great things with community outreach and engagement, but the principal told him that data-driven instruction was at the heart of her academic program.”