Tag Archives: culturally relevant pedagogy

Do Afro-American Students, (Especially Boys) Have Better Outcomes in Classes Taught by Afro-American Male Teachers? Or, Are Rich Curriculum and Rigorous Standards the Pathway to Improve Outcomes for All Students?

My early morning infusion is a doppio from the neighborhood Starbucks, customers, all white, some tapping away on a laptop, most had cups nearby, others not. Needless to say no one was asking the non-drinkers to leave. For many, Starbucks is a virtual office, good WiFi, readily available beverages, and you can work away for hours. The Starbucks “incident,” the arrest of two black men can be described as an example of “implicit bias,”

Implicit bias,

Implicit bias is the automatic associations people have in their minds about groups of people, including stereotypes. It forms automatically and unintentionally, but results in attitudes, behaviors or actions that are prejudiced for or against a person or a group of people.

 Two black men, hanging out, must be “up for trouble; black men, regardless of their income or level of education can regale you with “incidents,” being hassled for being black, experiences that white men never can imagine, they have the protective coating of white privilege.

What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it was suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place …. a set of unearned assets that a white person in America can count on cashing in each day but to which they remain largely oblivious.

A few years ago I was at a conference, a session dealt with “culturally relevant pedagogy,” a controversial term. One of the participants commented. “They’re going to teach us to be black.” Yes, controversial.

It was the first day of a graduate class in a teacher preparation program, I began with an ice breaker, “What’s your philosophy of education, (smile) in one sentence.” I nodded to Muhammad, who responded, “All white people are racists; it all depends on how they deal with their racism.”

The class turned to me, “Interesting, I have to give it some thought.”

Some students reacted angrily, “How can you call me a racist, it’s insulting, you don’t know me.” Others agreed, “I’m a white kid from the suburbs, I worry constantly about how I’m going to relate to inner city kids of color, whether they will accept me.”

Was Muhammad a racist? Or, was he pointing to a fact: we all have implicit biases: do we recognize and attempt to alleviate the biases?

The mainstream education commenters emphasize the teaching/learning process: teachers are assessed by frameworks or rubrics, Charlotte DanielsonKim MarshallMarzano  and others, all aver that teaching behaviors are scientifically documented; however, there are key unanswered  questions:  Does a rigid adherence to a set of frameworks guarantee learning? Does the gender, race or ethnicity of the teacher impact student learning? Should we alter teaching strategies based on the gender, race or ethnicity of the student?

I come from the days of the developmental lesson that begins with a motivation: an activity, or a statement, or a cartoon, a brief activity to seize the attention and engage the student. It didn’t always work, was it the inadequacy of my motivation or the alienation of the students? Did my gender/ethnicity impact the effectiveness of my lesson?

I’ve met many teachers who claim, “I’m a really good teacher; some kids just don’t care.” Are they “really good teachers?” Are there kids who “really don’t care”? Is there a classroom triage: we teach the kids we can reach? For many of us failures haunt us: what could we have done differently?

We’re encouraged to differentiate, to change/alter instructional strategies to match the needs of individual kids. If gender/ethnicity of a teacher impacts the teaching/learning process how can teachers alter practices to make up for “belonging” to the “wrong” gender/ethnicity?

There is growing evidence that Afro-American students, especially male students, have better academic outcomes in classes taught by Afro-American teachers.

Read articles here, here and here.

The “why” question is complex: implicit bias? lack of cultural competency? We don’t actually know.

Over the last few decades a new theory has entered the world of education: the theory of culturally competent pedagogy: teaching strategies to match the culture of the students, In Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, Lisa Delpit delves into the question of cultures,

A connecting theme throughout the book is how power imbalances and cultural conflicts within classrooms occur within a larger society that nurtures and maintains stereotypes. The culprit in these situations is not simply racism, though it certainly plays a part. It is the reluctance of people, especially those with power and privilege, “to perceive those different from themselves except through their own culturally clouded vision.” This inability is particularly destructive in classrooms where teachers view low-income and minority children as “other” and “see damaged and dangerous caricatures of the vulnerable and impressionable beings before them” 

New York State is in the process of establishing competencies for school leaders, The “Principal Preparation Project Advisory Team Preliminary Set of Consensus Recommendations,” uses the term “culture” a number of times.

 * Recognize, respect, and employ each student’s strengths, diversity, and culture  as assets for teaching and learning. Ensure that each student has equitable access to effective teachers, learning opportunities, academic and social support, and other resources necessary for success.

 * Confront and alter institutional biases of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and low expectations associated with race, class, culture and language, gender and sexual orientation, and disability or special status.

* Promote the preparation of students to live productively in and contribute to the diverse cultural contexts of a global society.

What the numerous mentions of culture  fails to do is to define culture.

An NYU team takes a deep dive in the world of culturally responsive education (D’Andrea,  Montalbano, & Kirkland, (2017), Culturally Responsive Education: A Primer for Policy and Practice), The authors, citing numerous research studies endorse the impact of culturally responsive education (CRE) and explores the challenges,

… the challenge is how to solidify the theory of cultural responsiveness into concrete policies and practices that can support learning for all students. To this extent, its critical lens has been applied to curriculum, classroom design, instruction, home-school relationships, disciplinary policies, and school-wide initiatives to promote equity, social justice, community outreach, improvements to school climate, and academic achievement.

The authors acknowledge the gap between research and the classroom practice.

  Given all this rich scholarship, policymakers and practitioners alike are left with the obvious question: “What do we do with all this?” Assuming everyone accepts the general premises of the largely theoretical research and what quantitative data do exist, what is culturally responsive education? Is it a curriculum? A teacher training protocol or program? An accountability system? Can it be any or all of them? The scholars who helped shape and expand this philosophy differ in both specific and vague ways on such questions.

David Steiner and Robert Pondisico, major education voices, may disagree, and may blame efforts to use race/ethnicity and culture “schemes” for failing to increase outcomes for children of color. I believe they would argue that a rich curriculum and high standards are the only pathway and culturally relevant pedagogy may sidetrack and result in lower standards, effectively, an example of implicit bias.

 A principal friend (black) was in a school waiting in the office to meet with the principal, the dean (white) escorted two girls (black) into office aggressively chastising them, “Fighting is unacceptable, I’d suspend both of you, this isn’t the first time …wait for the principal, it’s up to her.”

My friend walked over to the two girls, who were glowering at each other,

“You girls like Carti – b?”

They were surprised, a teacher, even a black teacher knowing about the latest big voice in hip-hop.

He asked, “Do you know she doesn’t write her own songs, she buys songs.”

One of the girls knew, the other didn’t, my friend engaged the girls in conversation – the principal came out of her office and began to chastise the girls for fighting.

Both girls turned to the principal, “Everything’s cool,” and walked away continuing the discussion.

I asked my friend, “An example of culturally relevant pedagogy?”

My principal friend smiled: “Experience: knowing 12-year olds and the art of distraction, move the conversation away from fighting to a topic that engages them, deal with the fighting later”

I asked, “Culturally relevant pedagogy?”

He laughed, “I’d say a few decades dealing with kids in inner city environments.”

Teaching is about connecting with your students, understanding the world of your students, “catching them” wherever they are and bringing them to where you want them to be.

Yes,  a Black or Latinx or an Asian teacher might  have an initial advantage, a leg up in relating to the student, might become that role model that changes lives, or on the other hand the “advantage” might fade, the teacher might not have the requisite teaching skills.

If culturally relevant education can be taught, can it be translated into engaging students, or, is it an implicit bias from the left, is it a trompe d’oeil?

The most effective teachers have the largest and deepest tool bags.


If the head of the new President-Elect’s Transition Team called you and asked for advice …

Last week I was at an Manhattan Institute conference: “America’s Accountability Movement: Progress or Retreat:” Marcus Winter, a senior fellow at the Institute presented two brief papers, “School Accountability in NYC Under de Blasio” (Winter’s conclusion: there is very little accountability), and “Choice and Accountability in Education,” followed by a keynote address by Jeb Bush (Bush’s conclusion: vouchers for all – a free marketplace). A panel (Michael McGee, CEO of Chiefs for Change (See Chief for Change evidence policy paper here), Morgan Polikoff, professor at University of Southern California and Marcus Winters moderated by Matt Barnum, a staff writer at The 74, discussing  “New Opportunities for School Accountability,”

Under the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states will have wide discretion in establishing accountability systems: what kind is testing, defining accountability, etc.  About fifteen states have been working with the Chiefs for Change since the spring and another dozen with Linda Darling-Hammond.

The panel agreed that the rigid NCLB system, based solely on proficiency did not work, and, was counterproductive; the unintended consequence was to create both a test prep culture and a concentration on getting kids to the proficiency point (in New York State – 3.0).and ignoring the others. The panelists all supported a growth model – perhaps combined with proficiency; in other words measuring individual student growth, regardless of their place on the proficiency scale.  A school that moved kids from 1.8 to 2.2 would still be far below proficient; however, shows significant growth.

A number of states are working to move away from traditional testing, New Hampshire is moving toward using performance tasks in lieu of the Smarter Balance test. (Check out the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity – SCALE – https://scale.stanford.edu/student). McGee thought that New Hampshire would move to a state-wide performance task system.  Other states are exploring portfolios and other approaches (“authentic assessment”) to define accountability working with Linda Darling-Hammond (See an April, 2016 paper entitled, “Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act here)

Check out an excellent and coherent discussion of the pitfalls of proficiency (“When Proficient Isn’t Good: The Deceptive Nature Of Proficiency as a Measure Of Student Progress— and How to Fix the Funhouse Mirror” here).

:I asked the panelists: “If the head of the new President-Elect’s Transition Team called you and asked for advice – a few guiding principles …”

Jeb Bush (smiling), “Neither of the candidates is going to call me.”

McGee reiterated a dashboard approach to accountability, moving to growth and proficiency along with a greater role for stakeholders at the local level: teachers and school leaders.

Polikoff: Equity, the resource differences between the poorest districts and the wealthiest district is both dramatic and unconscionable.

As I left I mused: do any of these proposed changes actually impact teaching and learning?  As a classroom teacher how would these changes impact me?

The next day I sat in on a panel discussion at CCNY moderated by a CCNY professor, Terri Watson, “A Public Conversation About Testing and School Reform,” panelists included, David Bloomfield, Brooklyn College, Jamaal Bowman, a Bronx middle school principal, Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for Alliance for Quality Education and R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a sociology professor at the College. The panel was joined by Christopher Emden, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University (See recent op ed, “Why Black Men Quit Teaching” here)

The CCNY panel was at the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum. While the Manhattan Institute event focused on the big picture the CCNY panel focused on the impact of the “big picture” on students, parents and teachers. All the panelists supported the opt-out movement and opposed the current testing requirements. I asked: “The Leadership Coalition on Civil Rights,” representing over 200 organizations supports the testing requirements of the new law arguing that removing testing would result in removing the highly visual achievement gap.”  The panelists supported alternatives to the current testing, varieties of alternative assessments; perhaps portfolios. Emden, passionately, called for “culturally responsive pedagogy ”  and the recruitment of more teachers of color.

Both events left me unsatisfied – will changes in accountability or opt-out/testing alternatives/culturally responsive pedagogy actually impact teaching and learning, impact the classroom?

Policy-makers search for solutions, some magic bullet or combinations of bullets that will change the tide: perhaps reducing/ending inequality, recruiting more teachers/school leaders of color or a focus on school/teacher effectiveness; all or some may or may not be impactful but not dispositive.

How much can we actually change?

Psychologist Walter Mischel, conducted the Marshmallow Test research in the 1960’s and tracked the participants for decades: 4-year olds who were able to practice delayed gratification ended up with substantially higher SAT scores and numerous other lifetime positive impacts: should schools actually “teach” delayed gratification in the earliest grades?

David Epstein, in The Sports Gene” explores the roots of athletic success: why are Jamaicans the best sprinters in the world and Kenyans the best long distance runners? Nature or nurture? Is there a genetic component or does the culture of the environment reward success?

In other words are we selecting the most effective triggers for change?

Professor Emden, quoted in a TC publication, cogently suggests,

While recognizing the potential of black male teachers to “serve as powerful role models” and the need for more teachers of color in classrooms, Emdin writes that “they cannot fix the problems minority students face simply by being black and male … Instead of fixating on black male teachers, we need to examine how teachers are trained, their beliefs about young minority men, and how they engage their students. They should be prepared to teach to each student’s unique needs, and to recognize that no student learns best under conditions that make him feel uncared for.

“A better solution is to train all teachers, black and white, to acknowledge the biases they hold about their students based on their race, class, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability. Then they can learn strategies for being effective with these students despite their differences.”

There is no single path, no single bullet, hopefully we can explore the many pathways, build rich toolkits and continue to explore. The master teacher knows that blaming the kid, blaming society is futile. Teachers are writers, producers, directors and critics of a play that will run for one period or one day. What works today fails tomorrow; hopefully, we learn from our failures and our successes.

Coming attraction: Off to John Hopkins for a Coleman Report at 50 conference – what did we learn from the report?

School Leadership Matters: Why Are So Many School Leaders Mediocre?

Why is the quality of school leadership, to be polite, so mediocre?  Everyone who visits schools on a regular basis comments on the lack of effective leadership – exceptional school leaders are hard to find.

The first question: Is this a new phenomenon, or, have principals always been mediocre?  Let’s remember, we have had decades of low achieving schools. Scores of large high schools have been closed, high schools that were dropout factories, and, schools in which the powers that make policy seemed  not to care. The lowest achieving schools were staffed with the substitutes, called PPT’s (Provisional Preparatory Teachers), teachers who could not pass the required pre-service exams. There was an unofficial triage system: some schools were sacrificed so others could survive. The most effective teachers and principals found their way to the highest achieving schools.  An (in)famous surreptitiously filmed video showed a principal boasting, “Just because I paid for my job doesn’t mean I’m not competent.”  I spent my career working in a “good “school,  with mostly effective teachers and principals; all of whom “cut their teeth” in high poverty schools and figured out how to move on to a “better” school.

There were exceptions, dedicated teachers and principals who worked with the neediest children, it was a struggle, higher salaries in the suburbs, parent associations that raised tens of thousands of dollars, highly motivated kids, easy transportation into safe neighborhoods, the allure of moving on was great.

An answer to the first question: the past may not have been as bright as it appears in retrospect.

Does the age and lack of experience of current school leaders account for the mediocrity?

Over the last dozen years the Department has closed over 150 schools and created hundreds of new schools. Twenty-five years ago there were about 125  high schools, comprehensive and vocational schools, now there are over 400 high schools, mostly small schools, additionally, the Department has also closed middle schools and created much smaller schools: hundreds upon hundreds of new school leaders thrust into positions of school leadership,

Virtually every school of education has a leadership program, you take the courses, complete an internship, usually in your own school, and pass a state exam and you receive certification, the program admission standards are low.  New York City Department of Education has a Leadership Academy – part of the program selects teachers and fast tracks them to school leadership positions, under the current administration the candidate must serve seven years as a teacher, under the former regime there was no requirement. Are these new, younger, less experienced school leaders less effective than predecessors?

Does teaching experience impact the success of the school leader?

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell lays out the much quoted “10,000 hours rule,”  simply put: gaining mastery requires 10,000 hours of “deliberate” practice.

The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

But a new Princeton study tears that theory down. In a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains. 

  • In education, a 4% difference
  • In professions, just a 1% difference

In it, Johansson argues that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best. 

But in less stable fields, like entrepreneurship … rules can go out the window… mastery is more than a matter of practice. 

“There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued,” the study’s lead author, Brooke Macnamara, said in a statement. “For scientists, the important question now is what else matters?”

Others questions emerge: are “highly effective” teaching skills a prerequisite to becoming a “highly effective” school leader?”  How do you assess leadership skills prior to entering a certification program? And, the most controversial, and core question: can leadership be taught, or, is it an innate skill or quality?

In his book The Sports Gene, David Epstein muses over the question of athletic prowess.

In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be?

We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals. Or were they?

In other words, is athletic prowess nature or nurture?  Is there a hereditary predisposition to some sport or is it a learned behavior?

Does “practice make perfect” or, is there such a thing as a “natural?” Schools of Education argue school leaders can be made through coursework and an internship; however, we still don’t know how leadership skills are acquired.

Is leadership an inherited trait, is there a genetic predisposition to leadership?  Once upon a time it was commonplace for the football coach to become the principal or the superintendent: do coaching skills translate into leadership skills? To be blunt: are there “natural” school leaders?

A new term is “churn rate,” the percentage of teachers that leave a school each year. Under the Department of Education Open Market Transfer Plan any teacher can move to any school only requiring the approval of the receiving school. Some schools have high “churn rates,” teachers spend a year or two in a school and leave. Yes, some to move to a better school in a better neighborhood, others to get away from a school leader who is less than effective.

School leaders are frequently frustrated, mistrusted and criticized,

* “The teachers nod and agree and nothing chances, they don’t take me seriously.”

* “The principal spends all of his/her time on school climate and discipline and nothing changes.”

* “The principal spends all of his/her time in the office complaining about paperwork.”

* “The kids think the principal’s a joke,”

* “I don’t get any support – I feel like I’m left adrift to sink or swim.”

I was visiting a school co-located on the top floor of another school – both middle schools. As I walked upstairs I heard angry yelling coming from classrooms (“Get into your seats!!”), kids wandering in the halls, as I walked onto the top floor, the school I was visiting, a kid walked up to me, introduced himself by name, and asked if he could be of assistance. I was impressed and told the folks in the office – all the kids were trained to act that way with any visitor. The classrooms were interactive, the kids seemed engaged. In the lunchroom some teachers were sitting with kids – teachers were paid to tutor during lunch (called “Lunch and Learn”). What was the difference?  Why was one of the schools chaotic and the other orderly?  Why did the school leaders have such different skill sets?  Different training?  Different life experiences? All the kids came from neighborhood elementary schools; they all lived in the nearby crime-infested projects.

Some argue that knowledge of culturally relevant pedagogy is essential to becoming an effective school leader: learned skills. Others imply that race is an important component in relating to students of color: implying teachers and principals of color are desirable. Are prior leadership/team experiences necessary? namely, is participation in group/team activities (sports, dance, orchestra, etc.) prerequisites?

In my view leadership programs should be as selective as law schools and medical schools – too many candidates should never have been accepted in the first place.  School leadership requires a unique skillset.

Advice to principals:

* Spend at least half your time out of the office – most of it talking to students.

* Teach a class – maybe not every day – show off your skills.

* Include the union rep and teachers in all planning activates.

* Meet with parents and the community in structured meetings – not complaint sessions.

* Listen, listen, listen … most principals talk too much and listen too little.

* Say thank you … to everyone who deserves a thank you.

* Don’t settle – be tough and fair – set high standards for everyone – especially yourself.

* Exercise regularly – maybe with staff…

* Be a leader – and, if you have a problem defining what that means we have a problem.