Impact of Teaching Common Core to Multi-Cultural Students
The United States continually strives to improve education for its children. The founding fathers made speeches about the importance of education, followed by the development of standardized testing to No Child Left Behind and now, Race to the Top. Part of this is the recognition that ours is a nation of diverse ethnicities and cultures. There is a struggle to meet the needs of our multicultural students while ensuring the educational standards are met for all.
As Merfat Ayesh Alsubaie (2015) says, “There is a relationship between education and culture. Because culture is an important part of the education system, the education should reflect it, and it has to be an appropriate for students and their cultures.”
Nieto defined culture as “the ever-changing values, traditions, social and political relationships, and worldview created, shared, and transformed by a group of people bound together by a combination of factors that can include a common history, geographic location, language, social class, and religion” (Nieto, 2008, p.129). This is never more obvious than in a classroom. At any time, teachers may have students from different socio-economic backgrounds, different countries, and varied family settings. These cultures will vary from urban to rural to suburbia. Research tells us the majority of teachers in America are white, middle class, and English monolingual, (Nieto, 2008). For the school year 2011 – 2012, in the United States, 81.9% of all teachers were white/non-Hispanic (Schools and Staffing Survey (n.d.). The San Jose Group notes, 38% of Hispanic young adults plan to obtain a college degree. (2013).
Many attempts have been made to ensure that all students have equal access to quality education. This wasn’t always the case. In the 1960’s, during the Civil Rights Movement, there was an exodus of African Americans from the South to the Northeast and West. Generally, they settled in urban environments which became deeply segregated, such as Harlem or the South side of Chicago. “This contributed directly to growing problems of over-crowded schools, resulting in large classes, double-shift schedules, and over-burdened staff and facilities”. (J. L. Rury, 2014). Studies also show that even today, where the families live influences the risk factor to educational achievement. Children whose families reside in either large cities or rural areas are more likely to less successful academically than children living in suburbs. Statistics show almost four times as many African American families live in large cities as do white families. (Murphy, 2010). Also, families who move around a lot, generally in a lower SES, are more at risk for lower academic achievement for the students.
Educators and lawmakers are working diligently to change the statistics. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented with the goal of raising standards “while assessing students’ attainment of those standards.” (Burks, et al, 2015). This was followed by The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which were initiated in 2009 by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (Wiley, 2014).
From the Common Core website:
“Building on the best of existing state standards, the Common Core State Standards provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning”.
During the 2012 – 2013 school year, the Common Core was being implemented in most states and “The CCS call upon states to derive 85% of their local educational standards from the CCSS, with the remaining 15% set aside for state specific standards” (Wolf, et al, 2014). Unfortunately, Common Core, as originally written, did not take into account the needs of multicultural students. According to Ron Schachter (2013) of the Minneapolis School District, “more than 95 native languages other than English are spoken, accounting for 11,500 of the district’s 33,000 students.” It would be interesting to learn if the teachers are using strategies “to include an academic, cultural, emotional, and social focus that moves students closer to examining issues they find relevant to their lives.” (Tatum in Chiarello, 2012). Students should be using texts with pictures and words that include many different cultures.
It is also important to recognize differences in home environments and how they influence achievement (Murphy, 2010). Families with low socio-economic status do without needed educational tools. The availability of books and computer ownership are keys to student success. Computers are helpful for both reading and math. J. Murphy (2010) quotes research by Uhlenberg and Brown (2002), citing the work of Novack and Hoffman, “Statistics show 73 % of white students have a computer in the home, but only 32 % of African American students own one. Additionally, the family structure is very different for these students.
Murphy (2010) examines family structure and provides information to show that single-parent families are increasing across the US, but even more so in minority families. There is a direct link to poverty and family structure. Specifically, The relationship between Socio-Economic Status (SES) and single-parent family structure is strong and close to linear—that is, as SES goes up, the proportion of young children in single–parent homes goes down”(p.32). The statistics Murphy provides are shocking:
- Biological father is present in 86% of white families and only 39% in African American families.
- 25% of white children live in single-parent homes while 62% of African American children live in single-parent homes.”
Children of single-parent homes are more likely to struggle with academic achievement (lower test scores and lower grades) and drop out before completing high school. (Murphy, 2010). One must remember the essential issue here is the association between family structure and income with more single-parent families specifically living with less available income.
Common Core tells us that teaching literacy skills requires us to focus our efforts on helping students read, write, and think in English. This will enable them to learn the content and “be able to make new meaning through original analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and application. Strong skill-based instruction relies on explicit teaching, high expectations, strategic scaffolds for learning, and skill practice” (Literacy TA, 2015). Wiley and Rolstad (2014) note “literary practices are seen as being shaped by the dominant social, economic, and political institutions in which they are embedded.”
For example, there are likely “implicit biases and hidden curriculum”. This applies to the minority and immigrant students. They go on to discuss earlier work by Bernstein (1971), which says, in brief, “middle-class children are advantaged in schools.”
Some teachers are using this to their advantage. Leslie Maxwell (2013) tells educators how schools are using “more-experienced students help ‘acculturate’ the newer arrivals and a team of teachers sticks with the same group for two full years.” The question arises, how do teachers meet the Common Core standards while also meeting the needs of a multicultural classroom? According to Maxwell (2013) one way is for teachers to team up. Teachers responsible for content (Common Core subjects) are working closely with ESL teachers, and have begun “picking apart the standards, stripping them down to the essential concepts, simplifying the language, and developing strategies that all of them can use to support English learners…”
At other schools, these same specialized teachers are crafting “common-core lessons in English/language arts and math that outline explicit supports and ‘scaffolds’ for ELLs, based on their proficiency levels” (Maxwell, 2013). Previously, the focus of English language learning was to separate the ELLs from the main classrooms where they would work only on language development.
It is also important for educators to understand how best to teach students that In a training video created for JCPS Employees (2012), several tips are given to help educators recognize diversity and the steps they can use to improve sensitivity. These tips are important in teaching all students, but especially those from different cultural look and speak differently from them and other students. For example, the speaker on the video says “Don’t judge or criticize cultural differences. They are neither good nor bad; it’s what we do with them that counts.”
It is important to remember why Common Core was implemented. The goal has been to have standards by which all children will have an equal opportunity for learning. Although history has shown that mandating change, such as integration, is not the entire answer, it may be necessary in order to facilitate change. Overall, there are many factors which contribute to the success of students from multicultural backgrounds. Diversity can enrich the classroom. This student would reiterate how imperative it is for educators, at all levels, to recognize and respect these cultures. Only then, will standards, such as Common Core, be effective.
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