Dr. Pedro Noguera & Dr. Frederick Hess on Conversations About the Toughest Questions in K-12

rick hess pedro noguera

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On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, Tom is joined by Dr. Pedro Noguera and Dr. Frederick (Rick) Hess, co-authors of the new book A Search for Common Ground: Conversations About the Toughest Questions in K-12.

Dr. Pedro Noguera is the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the Rossier School of Education and a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he works on K–12 and higher education issues. He is the author of Education Week’s popular blog “Rick Hess Straight Up” and a regular contributor to Forbes and The Hill. He also serves as an executive editor of Education Next and the co-host of the “Common Ground” podcast.

Let’s listen in as they discuss the importance of disagreement, relationship and some of the biggest challenges in education.

“We approached this book as parents, as former teachers ourselves, not just as researchers.”

This book began out of a combination of optimism and frustration. Both Pedro and Rick were frustrated with the way that issues would get dichotomized. “If we can’t find a way to engage in civil debate and problem-solve to address the common threats to our future, we’re in trouble […] a democracy as diverse as ours only works if we figure things out,” said Pedro.

Rick and Pedro had known each other for a long time before collaborating on A Search for Common Ground, but they hadn’t been able to have the hardest conversations in education yet. The two set out to write each other emails which served as long-form responses that illuminated new perspectives and details.

They agree that education is one of the few institutions we have to bring people together. They also dedicated the book to the next generation. “They need to be better at solving problems than we were.”

Some of the sections include the purpose of schooling, school choice, the achievement gap, accountability and testing: “Are we assessing their ability, or their ability to take a test?” asked Pedro. They also discussed higher education: “Higher education should be an avenue to gain skills and get you where you want to be. You shouldn’t have to buy the piece of paper to get there,” said Rick.

School leaders can use this book to think about new ways to engage stakeholders and to demand more courageous conversations. “It’s our selfishness that is our biggest threat, what we hope for this book is that it reminds people that we’re all in this together.”

For more, check out Rick’s writings on reform.

More about A Search for Common Ground:

At a time of bitter national polarization, there is a critical need for leaders who can help us better communicate with one another. In A Search for Common Ground, Rick Hess and Pedro Noguera, who have often fallen on opposing sides of the ideological aisle over the past couple of decades, candidly talk through their differences on some of the toughest issues in K–12 education today―from school choice to testing to diversity to privatization. They offer a sharp, honest debate that digs deep into their disagreements, enabling them to find a surprising amount of common ground along the way. Written as a series of back-and-forth exchanges, this engaging book illustrates a model of responsible, civil debate between those with substantial, principled differences. It is also a powerful meditation on where 21st-century school improvement can and should go next.

Book Features:

  • Modeling dialogue: Rick and Pedro provide a model for how to sort through complicated issues and find common ground in today’s atmosphere of distrust.
  • Deliberate, sustained exchange: Rick and Pedro demonstrate how deliberate, sustained reflection allows them to respectfully flesh out differences and sharpen their own thoughts.
  • Left and Right Politics: Rick (generally Right) and Pedro (generally Left) offer a window into where they do and don’t agree on education and point the way to principled cooperation.
  • Readable and conversational: Rather than pushing a partisan agenda, Rick and Pedro have crafted a stimulating read for education newcomers and experts alike.
  • Unique approach: While other books about the different sides of the education debates simply present paired essays, Rick and Pedro actually engage with each other to strive for a deeper understanding of their differences.


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