“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:
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?