How can multicultural education help close the achievement gap?

 

 

The philosophy of Lincoln Elementary School is one that has worked at fostering a learning community that has virtually diminished the achievement gap. This “gap” is one that effects lower classes and minority groups and allows economic resources to determine educational outcomes. In Learning Matters’ video The Achievement Gap, Ron Ross argues that SAT scores predict the income of the student’s family, rather than intelligence. Unfortunately, this video does little to provide administrators with ideas of how to improve their school’s current standing. By placing high quality, innovative teachers in a school in a disadvantaged neighborhood, their solution is found in human resources. This resource may not be available to most schools. Lincoln’s location outside of Manhattan provides them with the advantage of having a larger human capital available to them. While I applaud the school for finding individuals with a commitment to closing the achievement gap, I believe the focus should lie more in career development, and providing teachers with the knowledge they need to create an environment equitable for all children.

 

A lot of the problems I have noticed are economic, after all, Andrew Shapiro reports in Open Minds to Equality that the U.S. as having the “number one in highest-paid athletes, but last in teachers’ salaries” (p. 25). Schniedewind and Davidson discuss the Common Sense Budget Act, which would reallocate $60 billion of federal funding towards schools, medical research and job training rather than unneeded programs in the defense budget (2006). The importance of money in our country has formed a gap socially that has leaked over into academics. However, a recurring question is constantly whether or not to address these problems in school, or allow them to occur naturally. Where should the focus in multicultural education lie?

In Affirming Diversity, Nieto and Bode refer to Jonathan Kozol’s concept of sanitizing curriculum. There are positive ways and negative ways in which curriculum changes can provide students with a positive multicultural experience. Exhausting the stories of heroes such as MLK and Rosa Parks is not one of these ways. Nieto and Bode discuss the European American way of thinking, and believing their way of life is the normal way, and “anything else is “ethnic” and exotic” (p. 49).  Realistically, providing students with a separate unit focused on slavery and segregation will likely not affect their experience or understanding of other ethnic groups.

Sleeter & Grant take a more Humanistic approach on multicultural education in An analysis of multicultural education in the United States. They suggest that by opening communication in the classroom, students are able to improve their relationships with one another and select literature that provides multiple perspectives for all races and ethnic groups. However, this methodology lacks any long-term goals, and while one classroom may wholly embrace this approach, universal practice of this theory may be too idealistic.

Multicultural Education by Banks takes a multipronged approach, which focuses on various facets of the students and the school. With minimal focus on the curriculum, Banks looks mostly at prejudice reduction and knowledge construction. Prejudice reduction begins in Kindergarten and has been researched using intervention in young children. These methods provide reading materials informing children of the experiences of different ethnic groups, and in doing so reducing white bias. Banks references Cohen while discussing the interracial interaction disability that causes white and minority students to automatically expect whites to dominate a situation. By intervening early, it is situations like this that may have the possibility of disappearing from academic, if not all, social circumstances.

Whether Lincoln has been a model of advancement in the academic community, or whether they are the result of luck, it is hard to say. However, by becoming better educators and preparing teachers for changing classrooms that are becoming increasingly more diverse, we may begin to see a closing of the education gap.

 

Banks, J. (1993). Multicultural education: Historical development, dimensions and practices. Review of Research in Education, 19, 3 – 49.

 

Learning Matters. (2003, November 12). The Achievement Gap. [Video]. Retrieved from http://learningmatters.tv/blog/on-pbs-newshour/watch-the-achievement-gap/14/

 

Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. Boston, MA: Pearson.

 

Schniedewind, N., & Davidson, E. (2006). Open Minds to Equality. Milwaukee, WI: Pearson.

 

Sleeter, C., & Grant, C. (1987). An analysis of multicultural education in the United States. Harvard Educational Review, 57(4), 420 – 444.

 

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