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Noguera to parents: work to change student attitudes and school culture

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Katherine Saviskas

"We have a big problem on our hands," Pedro Noguera told about 30 parents at a lecture in Philadelphia on Tuesday November 9. "In every category associated with success, Black and Latino males are underrepresented, and in every category associated with failure, they’re overrepresented."

The next day the Council of the Great City Schools published a study that found, among other disparities, that low-income White males outscore higher income African-American boys on math and reading standardized tests. Alarmingly, it found that in only 12 percent of African American boys read on grade level and that, according to 2008 data, just 5 percent of college students are Black males.

However, as Council Executive Director Michael Casserly explained, "How can you narrow or close the country’s Black-White achievement gap when African-American males are not getting the attention and support they need to succeed?"

At the second of three lectures hosted by the District’s Parent University, Noguera said that Black and Latino boys must change their mindsets if they want to succeed. But schools and educators must also change their attitudes towards them, Noguera said.

To make them stop wearing their pants riding low on their hips, “you’ve got to lift up their minds. Lift up their minds, and they will raise their pants themselves." he said. To get the students to believe they “can accomplish great things,” schools and educators must believe it themselves.

After watching a video excerpt documenting dramatic change in an Atlanta middle school, the group discussed what is needed for educators to change their attitudes and expect success from African-American and Latino boys. Such a process involves an overhaul of school culture and structure, as well as making students feel more empowered and in control of their own futures, said Noguera. While difficult and expensive, it is very much possible, he said.

“It is not about the curriculum, professional development for teachers, it’s not about technology. It’s about attitudes, expectations, relationships, values. If you have a powerful culture, even if that child is not getting support from home, when they come into that culture it will benefit them," he said.

Teachers must reject the belief that "no one can teach kids like these" and stop expecting "students to learn the way they teach." Instead, he said, teachers need to create lessons with the understanding that Black and Latino boys are capable of academic success and that all students come to school with different learning styles.

High expectations must also be present at the school level – by treating students as college-bound from day one, cleaning up the school, bringing the students’ culture into the school, and by establishing rituals promoting high achievement, which Noguera called “very important” to reinforce values.

It is also necessary to recruit males of color as educators and mentors in order to “expose our boys to other possibilities…. If they don’t see it, how are they going to believe it?"

He told the parents that they must play a key role in creating these kinds of mindset shifts within their children and their children’s schools, urging them to “stay vigilant, not just for your kids but for kids whose parents are not as involved.”

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