School & District Management

States’ Standards for Teachers Don’t Define Culturally Responsive Teaching, Study Argues

By Corey Mitchell — March 28, 2019 4 min read
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While students in the nation’s classrooms are increasingly more diverse, the educators leading those classrooms and their approach to teaching has not kept pace.

A new analysis from New America, a Washington think tank, argues that only three states require teachers to learn how institutional racism and other forms of bias can hinder some students—and only slightly more than half encourage educators to consider how their own biases can affect their work.

New America reviewed professional teaching standards in all 50 states to determine if they effectively train teachers to use culturally responsive teaching strategies—and make schools welcoming and relevant for all children.

Some educators bring biases that leave some students subject to harsher discipline and lower academic standards. Culturally responsive teaching challenges educators to recognize that all students have strengths that can, and should, be leveraged to make learning experiences more relevant.

The study found that while all states already incorporate some aspects of culturally responsive teaching within their professional teaching standards, most fail to provide a description of the practice that is clear or comprehensive enough to support teachers in developing and strengthening those skills.

“Research shows that teachers, often unknowingly, are bringing biases about students of color, and in particular, black students, into the classroom,” said Jenny Muñiz, the report author and a program associate with the Education Policy Program at New America.

“We see sort of all these different problems play out, in the skills that teachers are using in the classroom, and the decisions they’re bringing to the classroom. We see culturally responsive teaching as a solution to a lot of these problems.”

The New America survey rates how effectively each state weaves culturally responsive teaching into their standards. To measure that, Muñiz identified and developed eight competencies for culturally responsive teaching, making the case that they embody the skills and knowledge critical to enacting culturally responsive teaching.

Under the list of competencies Muñiz outlines, almost all states require teachers to actively engage families, hold high standards for all students, and display respect for differences and diversity, but fewer have standards that compel educators to think about how their biases may shape those interactions and expectations.

If teachers aren’t evaluated on those measures and they don’t have training and support, the work is less likely to happen, Muñiz argues. The report cites a 2018 survey of New York City teachers conducted by the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools that found fewer than one in three teachers received ongoing training on how to address issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom.

“We really see standards as a foundational step in ensuring that this gets into the system,” Muñiz said. “Teaching standards are not a panacea ... but they certainly are an important part of the puzzle. [Teachers] need support. And they need to know that culturally responsive teaching is part of what is expected of them. It’s very difficult for teachers to implement when there is no support around them.”

New America’s report, and its call for more robust standards, aligns with work by the Council of Chief State School Officers and other organizations to diversify the nation’s teaching corps. The organizations argue that developing a diverse pool of educators trained to demonstrate culturally responsive teaching is crucial. Federal data indicate that 51 percent of public K-12 students in the United States are nonwhite, but only 20 percent of teachers are.

The Council of Chief State School Officers has created the Diverse and Learner-Ready Teachers Initiative, a network of nine states working to both diversify the teacher workforce and ensure that all educators are trained in culturally responsive teaching practices.

Louisiana, one of the states in that network, earned low marks on the survey for their effort to implement culturally responsive tactics, but officials there says they have taken steps to address the issue in recent years—including adopting teacher-preparation requirements that emphasize teachers’ ability to work with diverse learners, a state education department spokeswoman said.

Earlier this year, the state hosted a behavioral intervention summit where educators explored how their cultural competency impacts their discipline policies and decisions.

The Illinois State Board of Education is in the process of developing both culturally responsive teaching standards and revising its professional teaching standards.

The current professional teaching standards emphasize the importance of meeting the needs of each child, said Jason Helfer, the state’s deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, but “don’t directly focus on the importance of student perspective and student experience.” The 22-member committee charged with defining and shaping the standards for culturally responsive teaching is focused on “providing opportunities for recognizing cultural assets, language assets, and belief systems,” Helfer said.

Here’s a link to the report.

Related Reading:

Confronting and Combatting Bias in Schools

Black Male Teachers a Dwindling Demographic

Can These 11 States Make Their Teaching Forces More Diverse by 2040?

Teacher Diversity Gap Poses a Steep Climb

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.