Tag Archives: Lisa Delpit

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?

The Suspension Conundrum: Do Suspensions Improve Behavior and Academic Outcomes for All Students or, a Pipeline to Dropping Out and Prison?

A few weeks after the election of de Blasio in 2013 I dropped by the transition tent to listen to a panel of community activists talk education. The panel trashed the Department of Education over excessive numbers of student suspensions, for the panelists, evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” was alive and well.

(Read here, here  and here).

The data is clear, students who are suspended in the 4th grade are likely not to graduate high school and the more frequent the suspensions the more likely the student will enter the criminal justice system.

As a reaction school districts have sharply curtailed the numbers of suspensions, especially in urban school systems.

Twenty-seven states have revised their laws to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, and more than 50 of America’s largest school districts, serving more than 6.35 million students, have implemented discipline reforms. From 2011–12 to 2013–14, the number of suspensions nationwide fell by nearly 20%.

Is there a downside to reducing suspensions?

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

A just-released report from the Manhattan Institute (“School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public School, 2012 – 2016 “) takes a deep dive into the suspension and school climate data.

The report concludes,

[School discipline] deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report [note: using school survey data] less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform.

Supporters of the regulations limiting suspensions argue that new approaches, restorative justice and, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports  are in the beginning phases of implementation, it will take a number of years to train school staffs and assess the effectiveness.

What is missing from the debate are the underlying questions:

* Are students actually exhibiting behaviors that are inappropriate in school settings, and, if so, why?

* Is the failure of teachers to address these behaviors the cause of the suspensions? Is the preparation of school leaders/teachers inadequate? Are school leaders/teachers culturally and racially insensitive?

* Do suspensions modify the behavior of the students who are suspended?

* Do suspensions improve the outcomes for the remainder of the students in the classes?

and a core question,

Why do schools with similar populations have such different rates of suspension?  Are we preparing and selecting the “right” school leaders?

I was visiting a middle school in community (in)famous for handgun violence. One school was on the first two floors and another on the top floor. As I walked up the stairs it was sadly clear that the school on the lower floors was out-of-control. The school on the top floor was totally in order. Same kids from the same community, different school leaders with different skill sets and different outcomes.

A campus high school, four schools in a building, had a long history of school suspensions. A since retired head of school safety looked over the data and explained how to construct a school safety grid. We mapped the “precipitating event” and time of the “event” on a map of the school. It was fascinating!!  The “precipitating events” took place in and around the student cafeteria and in the hallways. The hallway events were clustered near classrooms with newer and/or less effective teachers.  More supervision in the cafeteria and more help for targeted teachers led to a more orderly school, at least , for a while.

The key to reducing suspension are the effectiveness of the school leaders and the classroom teachers. Should Lisa Delpit (““The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,”) be a foundational text for every teacher preparation classroom, or, because it is the foundational text, is that the source of poorly prepared teachers?

Will increasing the numbers of black teachers improve outcomes and reduce suspensions of black students? and, if so, why? (Read research findings here)

…there is compelling evidence that when students have a teacher of the same race, they tend to learn more at school (see “The Race Connection,” research, Spring 2004).

Those findings raise a parallel question: Does having a teacher of the same race make it more or less likely that students are subject to exclusionary school discipline?

David Kirkland, A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men (Teachers College Press, 2013)

… argues that educators need to understand the social worlds of African-American males to break the school-to-prison pipeline cycle.  The book asks the education community to listen to the voices of black youth to better understand what it means to be literate in a multicultural, democratic society.

Once again, is the source of the “problem” the failure to properly prepare teachers and school leaders?

If we expect student behavior to improve we must modify our behaviors. Suspension is a last resort, yes, occasionally the “street” does win. Schools reflect the cultures of their communities. The role of a school is to convince students to become “bi-cultural,” to accept that the culture of the street is not acceptable in a school setting. Teachers have argued that a suspension may “straighten out” a kid, and, is a lesson for the other kids: misbehave and you’ll be next to be suspended.  Does zero tolerance or suspensions improve outcomes for the remainder of the class?

The most common place for pickpockets to ply there trade was at the hangings of pickpockets. The area of deterrence theory may be applicable to the question of school discipline “The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket’s Hanging,”

This study examines the premise that criminals make informed and calculated decisions. The findings suggest that 76% of active criminals and 89% of the most violent criminals either perceive no risk of apprehension or are incognizant of the likely punishments for their crimes.

Studying behaviors of principals in low suspension schools in high suspensions districts is a place to begin. Unfortunately school district leadership usually looks for the quick fix, the “program” that will “fix” the problem. I have no objection to restorative practices or PBIS, I have rarely seen a program that fixes such a deep-seated issue. “Turning off the faucet,” changing the regs to limit suspensions, does not resolve the underlying issue. Harsh and rigid suspension rules do not  appear to impact the suspended student or the remainder of the students.

Some principals and teachers have figured this out, maybe we should find them and listen to them.