Tis’ the season. Backpacks, pencils, and PD. That’s why this post is two days late. On back-to-back days, I found myself in front of a room full of eager teachers who were genuinely excited to be back.
A few days before in between my prep, I came across an article by the Pew Research Center on the shifting demographics of public school classrooms.
The article was reporting the U.S. Department of Education’s projection that beginning this year, the majority of public schools students will be students of color — African American, Latino, and Asian.
The Browning of Public Education
The Pew article shared some surprising data about the browning of public school classrooms:
- Most of the growth is driven by U.S.-born Latino and Asian children rather than immigrant children
- Young children make up the biggest group of students of color coming into public school systems
- Seven in 10 school-aged children speak another language at home and will need English language instruction
It was funny (not “ha ha” funny but ironic funny) to read this article because it reminded me of all the talk over the past 20 years about the future “browning of America.”
Here we are at that point and we are still not ready to accommodate culturally and linguistically diverse students with ease and effective instruction.
There still seems to be a lot of hand wring about how to do that.
One piece data has not changed: While our student populations are getting more diverse, our teaching force is relatively unchanged — largely white and female. Few men in early childhood education and elementary schools. Few teachers of color.
So I arrived at my PD sessions with this data swirling around in my head and noticed the composition of the groups I was working with in a new way.
I looked around the room and saw very few teachers of color. In total over two days, I was in front of 80 plus teachers. There were less than five African American teachers among them and about the same number of Asian teachers. There were a larger number of Latino teachers, maybe 10 out of 80.
Beware the Cultural Mismatch
So what? Why is this demographic student shift in public schools so important?
It is important because we are in jeopardy of becoming an even more stratified two-tiered system — public schools educating large numbers of students of color who by graduation are not ready for the intellectual rigors of college or the creative thinking demands of a knowledge-based economy because we are not ready to teach them effectively when they show up to learn.
It is important because in order to support the kind of learning called for in the Common Core and that moves students along the path to college and career, teachers need to know how to be a catalyst for authentic student engagement that helps each student use her current cultural knowledge as a tool for creating habits of mind and thinking routines.
The teacher-student cultural mismatch means teachers need to develop their ability to do “cognitive code switching” as part of their regular instructional practice — using culturally-grounded frames of reference, analogies, and metaphors commonly understood by students that help build understanding.
Every educator (including instructional coaches and instructional leaders) has to understand the cultural dimensions of learning. Culturally responsive teachers know to build a bridge from the known (what the student’s funds of knowledge) to the unknown (new content).
When I read between the lines of the Pew article and the U.S. Department of Education demographic trends report, I read: Every teacher is going to have to be a culturally responsive teacher in order to be an effective and not contribute to the current achievement and opportunity gaps.
So start this school year off recognizing that everyone of us will have to be culturally responsive, not as an add-on for “those kids,” but as the core of our teaching practice because the future is already here.