The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 110 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host

With every passing year, it seems that our collective awareness of educational inequity is growing. I say “collective” with some unease, because for people who belong to marginalized groups and others who have taken the time to educate themselves well on equity issues, the awareness has always been there. Equity work is not a trend; it’s not a new thing.

But the chorus that is raising awareness about equity issues is getting louder, because more voices are speaking on bigger platforms: More books are being published, more podcasts and films are being produced, and new forums, like Val Brown‘s incredible Twitter chat, #CleartheAir, are helping to reach more people. I’m hearing more educators talking about issues like systemic racism, school pushout, and the opportunity gap, more educators seeking information about restorative practices, more educators who once upon a time might have assumed they weren’t part of the problem and suddenly realizing that, in fact, we all are.

And awareness is a good first step, but it’s not enough. We need to know what to do with that awareness, what actions we can take to move the needle toward justice.

In this episode, that’s what we’re going to learn about.

I’m talking with Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Dr. Noguera has been a leader in educational equity for over two decades, authoring 12 books, publishing over 200 articles, and speaking and consulting with schools and districts all over the country.  His most recent project has been the founding of UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools, an organization that describes itself as a “thought partner for schools, districts, and states in fulfilling their mission of ensuring that all children receive the education they deserve.” The Center works toward equity in academic outcomes in three ways: first, by conducting research that identifies the most effective interventions and strategies to support student learning and mitigate the effects of poverty; second, by developing a network of schools and districts engaged in transformative work that can be used as a model for others; and third, by creating stronger bridges between health, education and social services to promote student well-being and wellness.

In this interview, Noguera shares ten specific actions educators can take to pursue excellence through equity. Some of these are things we need to speak up about, some are shifts we need to make in our own mindsets, and others are changes we can implement in our own practices.

Before we get started, I’d like to thank Peergrade for sponsoring this episode. Peergrade is a platform that makes it easy to facilitate peer review in your classroom. Students review each other’s work, while Peergrade takes care of anonymously assigning reviewers and delivering all the relevant insights to teachers. With Peergrade, students learn to think critically and take ownership of their learning. They also learn to write kind and useful feedback for their peers. Peergrade is free to use for teachers and students. And now, Cult of Pedagogy listeners can get 3 months of Peergrade Pro free of charge! Just sign up for a free 30-day trial, then redeem the code CULT to extend that free trial to 3 months. To learn more about Peergrade, visit

Support for this episode also comes from mysimpleshow. mysimpleshow is this really cool online tool that allows you to create your own animated videos for free. It’s really easy, and FAST: You just write your script or upload your powerpoint, fine-tune the images, then add your own voice-overs to produce a completed video! It’s a perfect, easy tool for flipping your classroom and having students create their own videos. is now offering a free classroom plan with additional features just for educators and students. The plan offers collaborative explainer video making and full creative freedom for up to 50 students. To sign up, just go to and scroll down to the “Education” option.

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Now here’s my interview with Pedro Noguera.

GONZALEZ: I would like to welcome Pedro Noguera to the podcast. Pedro, welcome.

NOGUERA: Thank you, Jenn.

GONZALEZ: We connected a couple months back, and you’ve done so much important work around equity in schools, and so I thought this would just be a great opportunity to have you come on and share some of your accumulated experiences and wisdom on this topic.

NOGUERA: I’m happy to, and I’ve become a real fan of the Cult of Pedagogy since learning about your work. I’m honored to be on your program.

GONZALEZ: Thank you so much. I have a feeling a lot of my listeners already know who you are and are familiar with your work, but for anybody who might be newer to education or to equity in general as a topic, could you give us a little bit of background on who you are and kind of what you’ve been doing over the last couple of years at least in education in terms of equity.

NOGUERA: I’m a professor at UCLA now, and I work with schools, at school districts throughout the country and even throughout the world largely on issues related to equity. A lot of my work focuses on how issues and challenges that are external to schools impact what happens in schools and how do schools respond to those. That includes everything from issues like poverty and immigration to issues related to how we recruit and retain good teachers and engage parents. So lots of things come under that. I’ve also done quite a bit of work on boys, boys of color, understanding the challenges they face and policy work as well. My work touches on a variety of topics.

GONZALEZ: Okay, fantastic. I figure one of the things that you sent me a while back was this real simple infographic that is called 10 Ways to Pursue Excellence Through Equity. Based on what I have seen, particularly on social media, a lot of conversations between teachers, is that I think a lot of teachers have got a heart for wanting to do right by all of their kids, but they don’t necessarily know what to do, and I think sometimes a lot of them actually do the opposite of what’s going to be helpful, with good intentions but not necessarily always something that’s going to have a positive impact. What I loved about this infographic is that it’s got 10 very specific things that people, and in particular educators, can do to sort of build more equity for the students that they serve. So I thought what we could do is just go through these one at a time and just have you talk a little bit on each point and maybe give us some examples of what these things actually look like on a day-to-day basis.

NOGUERA: Sure, and just to start, what I know from my experience working with schools is that many schools would like to be equitable in the way they approach their students, but they don’t realize how past practices and how stereotypes influence what they’re doing now and what to do about it. There’s also a tendency to disconnect equity issues from basically good teaching strategies. This is what I like about your site, Jenn, the Cult of Pedagogy, is it offers very concrete suggestions to teachers, which is what teachers need. I think it’s a mistake when we put equity under this kind of rubric of addressing implicit bias, and that’s not to say that we don’t need to do that, but if you don’t connect that back to what teachers do on a regular basis to teach their students and engage them in the classroom, then you’re not going to see a change in outcomes, and changing outcomes ultimately is what this is about.

So go through these 10 principles and practices and the first is we have to challenge the normalization of failure, and by normalization, what I’m referring to is the complacency that sets in. Whenever you’re in a school that has grown accustomed to the idea that certain kids from certain backgrounds are underperforming or are more likely to be in special ed, or more likely to be disciplined. If that’s put in place for a long time at your schools, after a while people simply think it’s normal and think nothing can be done about it. There’s also, with that, a tendency to blame the kids or blame their parents. Whenever you sense that or hear that, it means the school doesn’t recognize its responsibility to address it. So when I talk about challenging the normalization of failure, what I’m referring to here is the need for educators to think and reflect on what they’re doing, why it is that the patterns are what they are and to hopefully devise strategies that begin to respond differently to student needs. Simply doing the same thing when it hasn’t worked is not going to get you different results. There are a number of things that can help you figure out what to do, and one of the things I often cite is looking for positive deviants.

For example, if you have many minority students who are not performing, then look at the ones who are performing and find out what’s different about them and their experience, because those outliers will tell you what we need to do more for the other kids. That’s just one strategy. The other thing you can do is actually talk to the students, and the students will tell you where they feel challenged, they’ll tell you where they feel supported, they’ll tell you where they feel marginalized and excluded. I would say it takes courage to talk to students, because students are generally quite honest. Once you know that they’re in classrooms where they’re not being served properly, then the real issue is what do you do about it? How do you make sure you address those obstacles to learning?

That speaks directly to the second point, which is you’ve got to speak up for equity, and by that I mean there are lots of ways in which the educators can become complicit in the production of the disparities, in the perpetuation of the achievement gap, because we simply haven’t acknowledged that there are ways in which some kids have been denied the opportunity to learn.

I’ll just give you one example: homework. There are many parents out there, middle class parents, myself included, who help their kids with their homework, who spend hours working with their children. We know very well there are other kids that have no one to help them. But they’re being judged the same way as kids who do. Once we know that homework is also an equity issue, we’ve got a responsibility to figure out, “Okay, how do we try to level the playing field?” Homework is one of the issues that many teachers get no training on how to assign homework. There are ways in which you can change practices to change outcomes for kids. But someone has to speak up about it. Education’s one of the few fields where we deliberately assign some of the least experienced teachers to work with the most challenging kids. There’s no evidence that this will ever work, but we do it largely to appease more veteran teachers and it also perpetuates the disparities. So someone’s got to speak up and say these kids are in a classroom with a teacher who is not qualified to teach them, and that setup is not going to work. So you have to have candid and honest conversations in school about what’s happening to generate a sense of internal accountability. Richard Elmore, colleague at Harvard, has written a lot about internal accountability. I often say to people, internal accountability is more important than external accountability, because when we have internal accountability, we can have the tough conversations.

GONZALEZ: That requires a lot of people to be uncomfortable. I think a lot of teachers are people-pleasers, and we’re used to going along with whatever’s going on. So that would really require a big shift.

NOGUERA: That’s right, and schools get better when we can have honest, candid conversations with our colleagues about what’s going on, about our teaching, and about what’s happening to our kids. So if you want to just be nice, you’re not going to make any change. It doesn’t mean that you’re insulting, that you are attacking people. That’s not helpful either. But we do need to be able to engage in honest conversations about what’s occurring for our kids.

The third principle is that we’ve got “embrace immigrant students and their culture.” Now it’s interesting to talk about this now when the country’s in the midst of this debate about immigration and whether or not immigrants should be allowed in. The fact is, as we all know, this is a nation of immigrants. Immigration has been a core to the founding of this country, and the courts have consistently ruled that immigrant students, including the undocumented, have the right to an education. We have to make sure that they get a quality education so that they’re going to be able to contribute to themselves and the society that they live in.

What we know is that when immigrant students feel included, when they are taught by competent staff who are able to teach them not simply ESL classes, but in science, in math, because those kids have to take all the subjects, then we see immigrant kids can do quite well. Right now in many universities, a disproportionate number of the undergraduates are immigrant students, and they’re not just foreign students. They’re students from this country who often have a much stronger work ethic than American-born students. But it also tends to be the case that these are students who are fluent already in their native language, went to school longer in their native country, and once they learn English, they sail through our schools. The students that we typically struggle with are the children whose parents are doing the dirty work in this country, the factory workers, the people in the hotels and restaurants, farm workers. The children of those people don’t do well because their parents don’t have the resources to support them and very often they don’t have an advocate at school speaking up for them. They will be marginalized within schools.


NOGUERA: And so much of the research shows it’s about access, it’s about inclusiveness, it’s about creating a climate that’s safe and nurturing for all kids, including our immigrant students.

GONZALEZ: I’ve got a quick question about that one, about embracing immigrant students and their culture. Have you seen schools that attempt to do this and do it in a way that is not helpful? Does that make sense?

NOGUERA: Yeah. I think there’s a tendency, in many schools, to think that we have to shelter these students, we have to build a kind of community within the school to support them, and sometimes that’s done with good intentions. But if those kids end up being isolated and marginalized, it often doesn’t help them. And so in the same ways we want to mainstream special ed students, we want to make sure all kids have access to the full resources of the school and the curriculum. Immigrant students, whether they’re English learners or not, need to take rigorous courses, need to have access to counselors. We can’t allow language to be a barrier to providing high-quality educational service. Now I realize that in some communities we’re working with children who speak multiple languages, and there I think if that’s the case, we’re going to have look to the community for partnerships to help us figure out how to both address the language and culture needs of these students and to work with their families. So I don’t want to suggest that this is easy, I do want to suggest there are lots of examples out there of schools that serve immigrant students quite well that we should learn from.

GONZALEZ: Okay, that’s good advice, to look for schools that are already doing this well.

NOGUERA: And I’ll give you one example, the Internationals Network. It started in New York City, now it’s several other cities. They’ve found ways to work with this population, including students with interrupted formal education, that is kids who are not attending school regularly in their home countries. So the listeners out there, I’d recommend that they look up the International Schools Network.

So the fourth principle is provide students with clear guidance on what it takes to succeed. That is that we have to demystify success for kids. AVID, which some of your listeners may be familiar with, does this quite well, that is they teach kids study skills, they teach kids the importance of getting feedback and revising their work. They teach kids the importance of asking questions for help and studying in groups. That is, there are certain strategies that we know are more likely to lead to success, and we need to make sure kids know what those strategies are.

We also know, and this is really basic, but kids who think they’re going somewhere behave different than kids who think they’re going nowhere. That is, your aspirations influence your performance in school, influence how invested you are as a learner and what we need to do is make sure that we provide kids with good guidance, not in 12th grade, but throughout their education, on why going to college is important, on the work opportunities that are available to them so that they become more engaged as learners and are more likely to see that the benefits of education are real.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. This reminds me of my husband. When he grew up he said nobody ever explained to him why college was important, and so he didn’t try too hard in high school. And he looks back now and says, “You know, dang. If somebody had just explained that to me … my parents just said, ‘You gotta go to college,’” but he didn’t understand why. And so it’s just an illustration of — I think sometimes when kids are raised in families where they are the fourth generation to go to college, that kind of stuff is built in.

NOGUERA: And that’s not uncommon for first generation students. All the efforts to demystify what it takes to do school are really important. Fifth, the importance of building partnerships with parents based on shared interest. I always say that parents want the same things our schools want, our schools want the kids to be successful, so do the parents. And once you acknowledge that, then what you’re after is a partnership where the parents are reinforcing at home that learning is important to success in school. Partnerships have to be based on respect, trust and empathy — not pity, but empathy. Certainly not condescending attitudes toward parents. Patronizing attitudes do not build partnerships.

And so what I think happens often is many schools overlook the importance of parents, even though the evidence that parents matter is always staring them in the face. It’s very rare to find a student who’s successful who does not have parental support, and that just reinforces the point that our work has got to be to get more parents involved with their children, and the most important form of parental involvement is not coming to the school to sell cookies, but what they do at home with their children, getting them to bed on time, making sure there’s a place to work, asking about the work, checking in with the teacher so they know what’s going on at school. All of those are things all parents can do regardless of how much education they’ve had.

The sixth principle is the need to align our discipline practices with our educational goals. This sounds obvious, but I would say again, look at the data. We’re most likely to punish the kids with the greatest needs. And how do we punish them? Typically by denying them learning time. We start by referring them to the office. If that doesn’t work, we suspend them. If you don’t address the cause of the behavior problem, the problem will not go away. So if our educational goal is to keep kids in school, to keep them learning, then we need to make sure that when there are behavior problems, we figure out what’s behind the behavior problem, and then we always work to keep the kids connected to learning, because kids learn through relationships. We’ve all seen kids who will work for one teacher —


NOGUERA: — same student giving another teacher a difficult time. So the teachers who know how to build a relationship are a resource for us for how to do that with the other kids. The hardest kids to discipline are the kids who’ve given up, who no longer care. That, I think, is a reflection of failed approach to discipline. There must be consequences for inappropriate behavior, but the consequence need not involve not learning. We have to be much more creative. Community service can be a consequence, restorative practice is a great strategy when implemented well for addressing the relationships between teachers and kids. We’ve got to figure out ways to make sure that schools are safe and orderly, but also that we’re not using discipline as a way to deny kids learning opportunities.

The seventh principle is the need to rethink remediation and focus instead on acceleration. We’ve known for many years that if you label a child slow, you put them in a group with lots of other slow kids, you assign a teacher who is not particularly effective to work with those kids, what you’ve done is create a self-fulfilling prophecy. That child will be slow, because you’ve set it up that way. And I say in a lot of schools, many remediation programs work this way. No one is evaluating Title I, for example, and asking, “How are we using those dollars? Do those dollars actually help kids?” We have to be tough-minded in evaluating the efforts to help our students and then again, focus on acceleration. By acceleration, what I’m getting at is what we should be doing. We know our child is behind academically and entering high school, we should make sure that we use summer to get them ready for high school.

Again, this is a resource issue, but I would say right now we are spending money on failure, and we should be spending money differently to invest in success. Accelerating opportunities to learn is one way to do that, and we have lots of examples of that. Here in California we have a program called MESA, the Mathematical Engineering and Science Achievement program. They know the importance of getting kids into geometry by the ninth grade if they’re going to complete the math sequence needed for admission to the university, and therefore they prepare those kids in the summer before they take the official course. It works. [INAUDIBLE] does the same thing in many of its own programs.

So what we should be focused on is high-quality learning experiences that challenge kids and prepare them for the next level. I also think it’s critical that teachers are clear about what they’re teaching and what are the essential skills that kids must learn to be ready for the next grade? We see too many schools where kids are pushed along, they end up in middle school or high school performing at a very low level, and that’s because the educators who had them earlier did not intervene. Early intervention works a whole lot better than late intervention. And there are lots of ways now that we could do more effective early intervention.

GONZALEZ: I did have one question about No. 5. Just about this idea of building partnerships and the things that parents can be doing at home. I know that a lot of schools are challenged by parents who are doing shift work.

NOGUERA: By parents, oh, who are doing shift work and therefore are not available?

GONZALEZ: Not always available, and so are you aware of schools that have had creative solutions for, and also are schools training parents on things they should be doing at home?

NOGUERA: It doesn’t happen enough. I think too often what we see is schools believe they can do it in spite of the parents and it never works. You gotta do it with the parents. Now if parents are working too hard, they’re working nights, then they’re not available, then we have to come up with some other creative approaches to address it. Typically that means involving the community, it could be churches, could be nonprofits, to work with our children while parents are away at work. And so superintendents, principals need to build partnerships outside of the school that reinforce the needs of kids and address those needs and provide the supports that the schools may not be able to provide on their own.

GONZALEZ: Okay. Because when you were talking before about how sometimes we try to do this work despite the parents and that the parents, the kids really aren’t going to succeed without parental support, and I do wonder if the child has got parents at home who have limited education themselves or might not really understand how they can support them academically. Are there any schools that are doing sort of parent education nights, where they say, for example, this is how to help your kid with their homework, this is —

NOGUERA: There are, there are, and these are not new ideas.


NOGUERA: Family literacy, family math, where parents come in and both do the work with the kids so they’re understanding what the kids are doing, but also it’s a way for them again, get familiar with the school and reinforce for the parents the importance of them showing to their children why education is so important. So efforts like that I think are really vital. They don’t result in the immediate short-term gains, but schools that have strong partnerships with parents tend to be schools that do well.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Okay, so that was, we went back to five and you were about to do No. 8.

NOGUERA: Implement evidence-based practices, I’m just going to say on that point, evidence-based practice and underline the importance of evaluation. You know, right now we’re living at a time where we have research on how to serve all kinds of kids, kids with dyslexia, kids who have attention deficit disorder. The real gap that we don’t close, the gap between the research and the practice, and we need to make sure our teachers know what the best practices are, and then we need to evaluate. I often describe special education as a place where very often we’re not using evidence-based practices even though we’ve done an IEP, which theoretically should give us good information on what our child needs, and that’s because we don’t draw on the research to make sure we give the child what they need, and we often don’t have fidelity and the implementation of interventions.

GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.

NOGUERA: So the key here is to evaluate, to make sure it’s having the impact, but also to work with your local colleges and universities to make sure you’re drawing on strategies and practices that the research shows are effective. The ninth principle is build partnerships with community to address student needs. We alluded to this already. But basically we can’t expect schools to do everything. We have kids, large number of homeless children in our country, kids who arrive at school hungry, kids who need eyeglasses and have trouble reading because they can’t see. We need partnerships with hospitals, with health clinics, with nonprofits, with churches, with any community entity or agency that can help us in addressing the needs of our students. We can’t expect the teachers to be the social workers and counselors and to teach. They need help. I often say that great principals don’t wait for help, because help’s not coming. They go out and get the help by building relationships with the local community. You have to be strategic about the kinds of relationships you want, because you want to make sure you’re getting help that’s a value to the school, but the biggest mistake you can make is to expect teachers to do everything.

GONZALEZ: Can you share an example of a school, maybe even in your local area, where they have broached a partnership with some business in the community or something that’s really working where if other schools were to hear about this, they could probably do something similar in their area?

NOGUERA: Sure, there are several models now that are widely regarded as some of the best in the country. Children’s Aid Society in New York has been doing this work for several years. They have several schools in New York City that are now called community schools where a broad range of service provided. The Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. It’s doing the same thing. Now many people look at the Harlem Children’s Zone and say that it’s very difficult to replicate what they’ve done because of all the additional monies they bring, but there are ways in which you can tap community resources if there’s a vision and leadership that acknowledges that these needs are there. So a number of schools, and this is especially true in urban areas, but rural areas need it to, because it’s a mistake to think that rural communities don’t have children in need.

I was in Vermont this past summer, speaking of principals, and the biggest issue they wanted to talk about is an equity issue was the opioid crisis and the impact it’s having on children.

GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.

NOGUERA: This is an issue that many teachers don’t know what to do about, but there are usually service providers in the community who do know how to address trauma, who do know how to address the effects of substance abuse on children. That’s why we need partnerships.

The 10th principle is that we’ve got to teach students the way they learn rather than expecting them to learn the way we teach. Now I don’t want this to get reduced to a slogan, but I would say in many of our schools, and I think this is more likely be the case in the high school and middle school, the assumption is that the kids will learn the way we teach. If they can’t, then something’s wrong with the child.


NOGUERA: I would say right now, in many of our schools, we’re not teaching kids the way they learn. I saw you post something the other day about just do something. If you go in many classrooms you’ll see kids sitting passively, listening to a person talk.


NOGUERA: Well now we know the least effective way to learn is through a lecture. That’s not to say there aren’t times when direct instruction is needed, but class time needs to be work time for kids. It’s only when they’re working that a teacher can see who’s getting it, who’s not, who needs more support.


NOGUERA: So we need to move away from a teacher-centered approach and move toward a student-centered approach. Kids learn through experience. Kids learn through mistakes. Kids learn by asking questions, through interaction. That’s how people learn things. And I would say if we taught kids the way they actually learn, our classrooms would look very different than they do right now.


NOGUERA: And so that’s why ultimately a lot of this work on equity comes back down to the classroom. What are we doing to prepare teachers to engage students, to motivate students? Education should motivate. Education should inspire. Our kids should come away feeling as though with education they can improve their lives and help their families and their communities. That’s not happening enough, and I think it’s because we’re stuck in doing things in very traditional ways that are not effective for our kids.

GONZALEZ: I agree. I think these 10 points are going to help, I think, a lot of schools to at least have some direction in meeting the needs of all of their students. I really appreciate you breaking all of these down for us.

NOGUERA: My pleasure, Jenn. And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s easy, like following a recipe from a cookbook.


NOGUERA: It’s not easy. Every school has a culture, and the cultures often can get in the way of doing some things that make sense. But if you have clarity about what makes a difference, and if we learn from examples of success that are all around, that’s the good news. There are lots of examples of schools that are serving kids well, all kinds. And the existence of those schools is the proof that the problem is not the children. The problem is our inability to create the conditions that foster good teaching and learning. That’s what we should be focusing on, how to create those conditions to enable our teachers to be effective at what they do and our students to ensure that they are learning.

GONZALEZ: If somebody who’s listening wants to hear more from you and learn more from your work, where would be the best place to send them?

NOGUERA: They can send me an email at UCLA. My information’s on the website under faculty. It’s

GONZALEZ: Fantastic. Thank you so much. I know that you have a very busy schedule. I really appreciate you taking this time to share this stuff with us.

NOGUERA: Thank you, Jenn. And hopefully one day we’ll meet in person.

GONZALEZ: Yeah! Yeah, that would be great.

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