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Panelist's charter school link is criticized at 'Miseducation' event

Panel members at an event critiquing current school reform policies last night criticized testing, large classes, and charter schools — and also a university professor sharing the stage with them.

More than 100 people filled a school auditorium in Manhattan to attend the four-member “Miseducation Nation” panel, which was convened in response to – and got its mocking namesake from – NBC’s “Education Nation” summit, a two-day event that wrapped up earlier that day at Rockefeller Center.

Pedro Noguera, an NYU professor who studies urban education, was invited to speak on the panel and for most of the evening, he was on the same page as his fellow panelists, historian Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, and teacher Brian Jones of the Grassroots Education Movement. They all criticized policymakers for adopting reform ideas that they said were not working – and ignoring alternative ones, such as smaller class sizes and culturally-relevant curriculum, that they said would improve schools.

The panel also criticized the media coverage, which they characterized as biased toward current reform policies. The event was hosted by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, a national media advocacy group. “We feel beleaguered and we feel there is only one story told repeatedly in the mainstream media,” Haimson said.

When moderator Laura Flanders opened up questioning to the audience, criticism quickly turned on Noguera, a board member of the SUNY Charter School Institute, which oversees many of New York City’s most prominent charter schools.

Veteran teacher Michael Fiorillo first brought up the subject when he asked Noguera to explain how he could support opening charter schools, while at the same time being such a vocal opponent of closing the ones that they replace.

Then, Karen Sprowal spoke up. Sprowal is a former Harlem Success Academy parent who has become a vocal critic of charter schools since the story of her child being counseled out was reported in a New York Times column. “What will you do to hold Eva Moskowitz accountable?” Sprowal asked Noguera.

Noguera defended SUNY charter schools as “the best-performing charter schools in the country” and said his role as a board member actually allowed him to ensure that they followed the rules or else face closure.

But he was not apologetic about his support for high-performing charter schools.

“I think we need ways to change and improve our schools and if charters become one means to do that, I support it,” he said.

Noguera’s responses were not popular with the audience, which jeered him. They also weren’t well-received by Haimson either, who called his answer “pathetic.”

Noguera, who along with Ravitch also appeared as a panelist at the NBC event, said neither one was productive.

“All of these issues are very complex,” Noguera said. “And I think that it’s hard to create a public forum where we can address the complexity of them and I don’t think we did that tonight. I don’t think the education summit did any better either.”

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