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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Community Leaders Seek Social Justice in Public Education

“If the people of Pittsburgh loved their children as much as they love the Steelers, the schools would be in great shape,”  said Professor Pedro Noguera from NYU’s School of Culture, Education and Human Development

He as a keynote speaker at Duquesne University Wednesday at a forum on  social justice in public education for poor minority students. 65 educational, community leaders, parents and students gathered  to determine how to seek fairness and equality in public education for children and youth in under-represented populations.

“Public education is a social justice issue, it is a social justice right," said Olga Welch, Dean of Duquesne's School of Education." Educating all of our children is a social justice imperative that the entire community shares."
Professor Noguera said public schools increasingly are "all that remains of the social safety net for poor children of this country."  His research indicates that more than half of the children in public schools in Allegheny county qualify for free or reduced lunch."
That means they are at or below the poverty level.  That means our public schools are disproportionately serving our neediest, most disadvantaged children" and society is not insuring those schools have the necessary resources.
"We simply focus on student achievement.  We narrowly focus on whether those schools are making progress and increasingly blame schools for issues don’t even have the resources or the ability to address.”

Stanford University Professor of Education Arnetha Ball, another keynoter at the forum, said it's a shared responsibility.   "But America I do not believe sees education as a social justice issue for all of its citizens.”

Ball said all students, poor or not, need the same resources including quality teachers.

"We know how to educate all students effectively," Ball said.  "So we know what they need but we’re not providing it, and we’re punishing those teachers in those schools for not making a difference in the  lives of those students when they’re not enabled to do what needs to be done.”

She said the 21st century classrooms are culturally and linguistically complex while the teaching force is predominantly female, monolingual, white and middle class.

“It takes concerted efforts to prepare teachers who have not engaged with these populations to give them the skills, the disposition and the knowledge they need to serve the needs of the children in the schools we’re concerned about, in Pittsburgh’s Public Schools.”

But Noguera added that schools in high poverty area need resources in addition to learning materials and quality teachers such as social workers, psychologists, health workers because those needs also impact learning.

“When we ignore those needs the whole country suffers.”  We’ve been led to believe it’s somebody else’s problem.  If we have failing schools in Pittsburgh, well the suburbs aren’t affected.  Well guess what, Pittsburgh is affected and if Pittsburgh’s economy is brought down because there are too many poor people who cannot work, and too much crime because there are too many people out of work, the whole quality of life in this region is affected.”