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On March 14, Pedro Noguera spoke at Evanston Township High School about “Education, Racial Inequality and the Future of American Democracy” in an event sponsored by the Family Area Network in partnership with ETHS. Dr. Noguera is a Distinguished Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA, and he has written extensively on the achievement gap.

A theme running through Dr. Noguera’s presentation is that poverty and other inequities related to poverty (e.g., lack of preparation for school, hunger, health issues, lack of stable housing) interact with student learning outcomes and that schools cannot be expected to solve these problems alone. But, he added, if schools hope to address the achievement gap, they must address the needs of students in a holistic fashion.

He summarized some stark statistics: “Many kids come to school with poor health, poor nutrition. … We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced industrialized nation. … 22% of all children in the U.S. live in households with incomes that fall below the poverty rate. … We are 24th out of 25 countries in terms of ‘child well-being.’ … There are kids in Chicago who have a higher incidence of trauma than veterans returning from the war in Afghanistan.

“Poverty is actually an education issue,” said Dr. Noguera. “But we can’t expect schools to solve it on their own, not when we are faced with such a broad array of social and economic hardships.

“And the fact is this problem is getting worse,” he said.

“We’ve known since 1966 that the strongest predictor for how children do in school is family income, combined with the education the parents had, particularly the mother,” he said, and the same is still true now 50 years later. “If you don’t focus on the gaps in opportunities, the gaps will just get perpetuated.

“A lot is possible when we don’t just focus on the academics, but when we also focus on health, when we focus on early childhood, when we work with parents, when we take a broader approach.”

Dr. Noguera cited the community-school model, which generally uses a holistic approach to address the needs of students from low-income households, and he gave as an example the work being done in the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City.

There is no set model for community schools, but they offer a wide range of supports and services, such as after-school learning programs; enrichment activities; sports activities; counseling services; physical, dental and mental health services; adult education programs; and housing and job assistance.

Stressing the need for a broader approach, Dr. Noguera reiterated his point, “Hungry kids don’t do well in school. Kids who do not have a stable place to live don’t get their homework done. The non-academic needs of kids influence their academic performance.”
He added that schools also need to “engage kids differently,” and focus on what gets “kids excited about learning,” what develops “the curiosity of kids,” and use “project-based learning.” He said schools need to get “kids to think that what they’re learning in schools can be applied in the real world. If kids get that, they can use education to change their lives.”

Dr. Noguera said he and others are advocating a “broader and bolder approach” to educational reform. At a minimum, schools cannot keep focusing narrowly on achievement, he said, but they need to “take a more holistic and integrated approach that links education to community development. … They need to look at the social and economic needs of children; they need to expand learning opportunities for students; they need to bring services into the schools; and they need to build capacity in the schools.”

 They have to “engage families and community, because schools can’t do it all by themselves, especially in poor communities.”Approximately 40% of the students at School Districts 65 and 202 are from low-income households. At District 65, almost one-third of its students are from households whose income is below 130% of the federal poverty line.

School District 65, in partnership with several community organizations, has established a community school at Chute Middle School, and is planning to roll out the model to a new school starting in the fall. In addition, District 65’s Strategic Plan adopted in March 2015 seeks to address students’ needs in a holistic fashion, by among other things, developing each student’s executive functioning and academic social and emotional learning, providing new approaches to culturally relevant instruction, developing each student’s mindset that he or she can grow and succeed, addressing the root cause of disciplinary issues, providing alternatives to suspensions, increasing parent engagement, and establishing School Climate Teams and a Whole Child Council, which will pay attention to the issues and challenges that children bring with them to school.

Likewise, School District 202 has programs to address students’ needs in a holistic fashion, including alternatives to suspension, a health clinic, a job program, as well as other initiatives.

In January 2014, Districts 65 and 202 adopted a Joint Literacy Goal that students will be proficient readers and college ready by the time they are in twelth grade at ETHS. To achieve the goal they commit to working with early childhood providers and other community organizations.

Also in January 2014, Districts 65 and 202 formally joined the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative, whose vision is: “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives.” Forty community organizations are now partners in the initiative, which is planning to use a collective impact model to address the needs of youth in a holistic fashion.

Root Sources of Achievement Gap

The following are excerpts from an article, “The Achievement Gap and The Schools We Need” (2012), by Pedro Noguera:“[E]ducational policy has not acknowledged that disparities in academic outcomes that correspond to the race and class backgrounds of student are actually a multi-dimensional phenomenon related to unequal access to early childhood education (the preparation gap), inequities in school funding (the allocation gap), difference in the amount of support well-educated, affluent parents can provide to their children versus poorer, less-educated parents (the parent gap). …“If educators fail to understand or fail to address the numerous ways in which other inequities – income, health, housing, etc. – interact with learning outcomes, then much of what is done to ameliorate the problem will simply not work. … “The history of failure in past school reform efforts has made it clear that a reform strategy based upon a more holistic framework that explicitly tackles inequality is the only way sustainable progress in public education will be achieved.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...