Is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” an Evidence-Based Intervention Within the ESSA Law?

Information lead to knowledge, knowledge lead to wisdom/Wisdom lead to understanding, once you have all that/You start demanding justice/Justice is what love look like in public/I ain’t just writing for it, I’m out here fighting for it – Talib Kweli

The dog days of summer are upon us; hot and humid with daily depressing news from the nation’s capital. If you’re teaching summer school, or, you’re a principal, you’re about to flee for a few weeks of vacation before Labor Day. The only bit of upcoming education news will be the state test scores; last year we saw a sharp jump, attributed by most to the movement to untimed tests; sages are predicting flat scores.(“Experts predict less of an increase in state test scores this year, credit elimination of time limits for spike last year)”

I spent the last week trudging through the ESSA draft plan that has been passed on to the governor for review (required by the law) and will be voted at the September Regents meeting and submitted to the US Department of Education.

A very quick review: within the regulations set by the law the state must determine how to identify low performing schools and lay out interventions to remedy the school inadequacies. Under NCLB the only metric was ELA and Math scores on the state tests; the draft plan weighs test scores, usually referred to proficiency as well as growth, referred to as progress. From my point of view fairer; however the state must still identify the lowest performing schools. The intervention side is far more difficult; after all, the state has been identifying low performing schools for decades, remember SURR – Schools Under Registration Review. I served as the teacher union member on many teams – we spent four days in a school, reviewed reams of data, observed every classroom, interviewed everyone we could find and wrote a “findings and recommendations” report based on a 21-topic template. The number one finding was always, “lack of support at the district and school level.”  Very little changed after our visit and report.

The feds currently require “evidence-based” interventions and describes what they mean in detail (See the regulations here)

New York State as a matter of long-standing policy does not require specific curricula, those decisions are made at the local level; however, Engage NY (Check out the site here) , the state website provides extremely detailed curriculum modules that have become the script in most schools across the state.

The 75-page summary of the draft ESSA plan (Read here) is artfully presented, tedious, repetitive and seems to want to satisfy everyone – more a political document than an actionable plan. I’m not being overly critical, to satisfy diverse constituencies you frequently come up with plans that all sides support and are also internally unworkable. A camel: an animal designed by a committee.

As I read and reread the plan one phrase popped up again and again: culturally responsive pedagogy or teaching or practices. The plan does have a glossary that defines the term:

“Cultural Responsiveness: Acknowledges the presence of culturally diverse students and the need for students to find relevant connections among themselves and the subject matter and the tasks teachers ask them to perform”

I’m still unclear: in designing a lesson we all try to tap into the student’s world, we try to develop a connection, we try to motivate and engage the student. On the other hand Algebra or Chemistry or Physics are academic disciplines, perhaps in an English classroom we can choose literature that makes connections with students, or, make sure we include a diverse array of personages in history lessons; for example, Frederick Douglas or WEB Du Bois, or James Baldwin. On the other hand hopefully we’re not throwing Shakespeare off the train.

The term originated with Gloria Ladson-Billings,

Culturally relevant teaching is a term created by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) to describe “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.”1 Participating in culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences of the students to inform the teacher’s lessons and methodology.

Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant pedagogy has three criteria:

  • Students must experience academic success.
  • Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence.
  • Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order

I’m not sure if I know what “cultural competence” means and I’m less sure that the role of a teacher is to teach students to “challenge the status quo of the current social order.”

I do think that Socratic Dialogues are a challenging pedagogical methodology, I favor encouraging students to develop a thesis, back up the thesis with research and defend the thesis to the class.

Lisa Delpit, Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom (1995). is a book commonly assigned in education preparation courses, An Education Week article relates an interview with Delpit,

”   it’s also more complicated than just teaching more and covering more basic skills, Delpit goes on to say in her writings. You also have to recognize, acknowledge, and value the cultural strengths a child brings to school. Teachers who say, “I don’t see color in my classroom,” are doing the opposite, according to Delpit. “What does it say to our children if we cannot discuss a visible aspect of them? It says there’s something wrong with them,” she says.

If you really want to know how best to teach urban children, Delpit maintains, then you must ask them and their parents. You also must ask the teachers who know them best because they come from the same cultural groups.

Delpit maintains that teachers who come from the same “cultural groups” (code for race and ethnicity?) have special knowledge, and, by implication, might be more effective teachers.

Before we get too far down the road let’s examine that question of “evidence.”  The best place to look is the US Department of Education “What Works Clearinghouse.”

Morgan Polikoff, an education professor and University of Southern California and a frequent writer and blogger opines,

… the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is chock full of programs that don’t seem to “work,” at least according to its own evidence standards, and I don’t think anyone believes the WWC has had its desired impact. (The former director of IES himself has joked that it might more properly be called the What Doesn’t Work Clearinghouse).

[I] … half-joke on Twitter that maybe states or the feds should change their approach toward evidence. Rather than (or in addition to) encouraging schools and districts to do good things, they should start discouraging them from doing things we know or believe to be harmful.

Does culturally responsive pedagogy lead to better outcomes for kids? I don’t know. Would I use socially conscious rappers  to motivate lessons and encourage dialogues – absolutely.

Check out a “socially conscious” rapper:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hpHsxgAyfI

Back in the early nineties the New York City Board of Education introduced the Children of the Rainbow curriculum, out of the 443 pages three pages dealt with teaching about “gays and lesbians” – the firestorm that erupted led to the firing of Chancellor Joseph Fernandez.  – Has the world changed in twenty-five years?  Could the term “culturally responsive pedagogy” create a firestorm?

Some aver the term is meaningless and detrimental to the education of the neediest students and argue for highly specific approaches, for example, ED Hirsch’s Core Knowledge and point to solid research result  See The NYC Core Knowledge Early Literacy Pilot here.

What do you think?

Advertisements

One response to “Is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” an Evidence-Based Intervention Within the ESSA Law?

  1. While there is value in the notion of “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”, the idea of it being some type of centerpiece to getting thru to students who are culturally different from their instructors has been shown to in fact to have a negative impact in student learning realizations. Back in the day, I became a Dean in the Frederick Douglass JHS in Harlem..I was offered this position by a Black Principal after having been a classroom teacher for 3 years. Several of my white colleagues urged me not to accept the position. They maintained that the Dean was in effect “The Punisher” and that I would not be able to punish students in the way that was ok for Black Deans to do so, but not whites. Of course they were alluding to the fact that from a cultural standpoint, if a black parent was made aware that their child had been roughed up (beaten) by a black Dean, that that was ok with them. Not so if a white Dean did the same. I asked my friends if over the past three years had they ever heard of me using such tactics to maintain discipline and they all agreed that I had not. I then asked them what they thought of me as a teacher colleague? Was I successful? Did I have a good relationship with the students? The answer was yes to each question. So why do you think that I won’t be able to work well with students who are behavior problems. They remained silent. On the flip side, I can recall having had to be the receptacle for students who just before coming to my social studies class had committed some behavioral infraction in their previous class, and had either been beaten by the teacher or sent to the Dean where they were also subjected to various forms of corporal punishment. Do you think that by the time that student got to my class that he would be of a mindset to learn? NOT!
    Some years later Rudy Crew as Chancellor brought us EFFICACY TRAINING. He paid a group from Seattle $600K to come to NY and tell all the white teachers that they were not experiencing success because they had a negative pre dispositions as to the limits of success that Black students could realistically be expected to achieve.
    The next phase of attacking the syndrome of “culturally Responsive pedagogy>” which was code for Non culturally responsive pedogogy, were in Sensitivity Training Workshops. I really shined at some of them.
    some years after I retired my family and I were off to Fla visiting various family members, and friends. One such visit was to my first Principal, who had the courage to appoint me as the 7th gr Dean @The Fred Douglass school. My daughter asked him why he selected me for such an important position, given that I only 24 years old. He said, that I was i of only 3 white teachers in the school that he was considering. My daughter then asked, why only a white teacher was being considered. He said, that he wanted his students to understand that becoming a disciplined person was not the same as being disciplined, and that I had shown as a classroom teacher, that in handling discipline problems, my focus was on getting students to understand how they must hold themselves responsible for their own discipline.
    In the final analysis, I am guided by the credo that which states, “good teachers do good things”!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s