New York Teachers May Get Sought-After Training in Culturally Responsive Teaching

May 1, 2018 by

Jenny Muñiz –

The country’s rich and vast diversity is perhaps nowhere better represented than in New York City’s public schools. A sizable share of the City’s students—about 83 percent—are Asian, black, or Latino, many of them English learners, immigrants, or the children of immigrants. Unfortunately, district schools have long struggled to meet the challenge of this diversity. For years, reforms have failed to curb racially biased discipline practices or the troubling rise of racially segregated schools—and a recent survey of New York City teachers suggests much work is still needed to train educators to serve the City’s diverse student population.

Published by NYU Metro Center, the survey finds that when it comes to addressing issues related to race and ethnicity teachers feel unprepared and unsupported. Perhaps most alarming among the findings is that fewer than half (45 percent) of the 382 opt-in participants reported feeling prepared to intervene if they witnessed identity-based tensions between students, and significantly fewer respondents (7 percent) trusted their colleagues were prepared to do the same. It is also sobering that despite the rising influence of anti-immigrant sentiment across the country, only 43 percent of teachers felt ready to discuss issues relevant to violence against undocumented immigrants, including hate crimes, deportation, and the removal of DACA.

These findings buoy existing concerns that the City’s teaching workforce lacks the racial and cultural competence to be effective. Fortunately, survey respondents also pointed to potential solutions.

Teachers chiefly drew attention to the need for more training and resources, particularly on how to fuse issues of race, ethnicity, and culture with their disciplines. “I would like to do this but have never received any support on how to modify the science lessons to connect with students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds,” one Manhattan middle school science teacher told researchers. The numbers paint a similar picture. Only 29 percent of teachers reckon they have received sufficient and ongoing professional development relevant to issues of race and ethnicity, while only 40 percent deemed they had access to resources that could help them broach these topics.

Despite the lack of guidance, however, teachers displayed an overwhelming willingness to embrace culturally responsive approaches. In fact, 86 percent of teachers believed it was their responsibility to facilitate student learning on topics, such as race and ethnicity. Positive outcomes related to school climate, socio-emotional learning, and academic achievement were cited by teachers as central reasons incorporating such topics is beneficial to students.

School principals and district leadership, meanwhile, give less priority to culturally responsive practices according to respondents. One elementary school teacher from Queens even revealed existing institutional pushback: “I try to incorporate racial/class/culture and social justice issues into my teaching using my own knowledge and research,” they said, “but this is not supported by my principal or district and has been at times discouraged by other teachers and my administration.” In all, less than half (44 percent) of teachers felt their principals were supportive of them discussing issues of race and ethnicity with their students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s city budget proposal answers call for more training

Under the proposed city budget for the 2019 fiscal year, educators may get more opportunities to learn about culturally responsive practices. Of the $125 million committed to the City’s schools, $21 million is slated for anti-bias and culturally responsive teaching training. In the first year of the plan, which intends to equip all of the City’s teaching workforce by 2021, the City will spend $4.8 million—a significant improvement from the $660,000 allocated to similar training in 2018. Negotiations with the City Council will ensue, but this is a promising commitment that may help more students have access to culturally responsive educators.

Legislators consider statewide roll-out of culturally responsive teaching

State legislators have also proposed an ambitious plan to improve the availability of culturally responsive professional development. Currently in committee, Senate Bill S5589 would require the New York Department of Education to establish a minimum of four professional development programs a year in culturally responsive instruction and to make those sessions available on its website. Training would prepare teachers to develop culturally responsive lesson plans and remedy implicit biases.

And while descriptions of what constitutes culturally responsive teaching can often be murky, the bill’s definition represents an improvement. According to the bill text, culturally responsive teaching is “a pedagogy that acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures.” Elsewhere, the bill’s definition pushes the envelope: “Culturally responsive teaching develops the social consciousness of students to better handle the world of prejudice and racism.” This choice of language is noteworthy and could spark conversations about individual and systemic biases, which are often overlooked in the education sphere.

To ensure accountability, superintendents would be required to develop accountability plans to be adopted by local school boards and renewed on a 3-year basis. These plans would include data on the quantity of training offered by districts, the number of participants, and teachers’ evaluations of each professional development session. As part of an ambitious evaluation component, school boards would also need to administer surveys that gauge teachers’ feelings of preparedness with culturally responsive practices, as well as students’ appraisals of teacher implementation.

Notably absent from the bill is an emphasis on school principals. Considering that as campus instructional leaders principals are critical drivers of curricular and pedagogical choices, additional state and district efforts should focus on extending similar, comprehensive training to campus leadership.

There is clear evidence that far too little is being done in New York City—and across the country—to ready teachers to meet the demands of racially and culturally diverse classrooms. Such disregard is unfair to teachers and damaging to students, particularly students of color who may face racial biases in and out of school. Students everywhere deserve educators who have adequate knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be effective in spaces where diversity of identities abound—and state and local legislators can play a big role in realizing this goal

Source: New York Teachers May Get Sought-After Training in Culturally Responsive Teaching

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