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Standing at the Crossroads: Multicultural TeacherEducation at the Beginning of the 21st CenturyMarilyn Cochran-SmithPublished online: 14 Jun 2010.
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Standing at the Crossroads: Multicultural Teacher Education at theBeginning of the 21st Century
Marilyn Cochran-SmithLynch School of EducationBoston College
Three decades ago, in 1972, the first of severalCommissions on Multicultural Education sponsoredby the American Association of Colleges for TeacherEducation (AACTE) made three key assertions: (a)cultural diversity is a valuable resource; (b) multicul-tural education is education that preserves and ex-tends the resource of cultural diversity rather thanmerely tolerating it or making it melt away; and(c) a commitment to cultural pluralism ought to per-meate all aspects of teacher preparation programs inthis country (Baptiste & Baptiste, 1980). In 1976, theNational Council for the Accreditation of TeacherEducation (NCATE) added multicultural education toits standards, requiring that institutions seeking ac-creditation show evidence that multicultural educationwas planned for (by 1979) and then provided (by1981) in all programs of teacher preparation(Gollnick, 1992). Despite the fact that most teachereducation programs now report that they have incor-porated multicultural perspectives and content intothe curriculum, external examinations often prove tothe contrary (Gollnick, 1995), and critics consistentlyconclude that nothing much has really changed(Grant & Secada, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1995;Zeichner & Hoeft, 1996). In addition, as Jenks, Lee,and Kanpol (2001) have pointed out, a conservativemulticulturalism, which focuses on assimilation andpreparing minorities for economic competition in themainstream, now dominates the political landscape
and makes the beginning of the 21st century a par-ticularly challenging time in the history of multicul-tural teacher education.
This article goes beyond suggesting that this is achallenging time, however. This article argues that inthe early years of the 21st century, multiculturalteacher education stands at a crossroads. If the pro-fession is to move toward teacher education that isboth multicultural and critical, we will need morethan the efforts of individual teacher educators whourge prospective teachers to rethink their own beliefsand attitudes about difference, privilege, diversity,and culture (although efforts of this kind are surelyimportant). We will also need sharp awareness andtrenchant critique of competing political agendasthatalthough using much of the same language ofequity, pluralism, and leaving no child be-hindnonetheless advocate teacher education pro-grams, policies, and entry pathways that arestrikingly different from one another. In the finalanalysis, these competing agendas and policies forteacher education will have dramatically differentoutcomes for educational access, distribution of re-sources, and the life chances of school children whoare differently positioned from one another in termsof socioeconomic status, culture, language back-ground, and race. In the pages that follow, this arti-cle argues that three situations have the most bearingon how and where we stand at the crossroads formulticultural teacher education at the beginning ofthe 21st century: the changing demographic profile ofthe nations students and teachers, competing andhighly politicized agendas for the reform of teacher
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education, and devastating challenges to the researchbase that purportedly supports university-basedteacher preparation. Despite these serious challenges,the article concludes with a brief discussion of prom-ising developments and a renewed call to action fora teacher education that is multicultural and critical.
The Demographic Imperative
The phrase the demographic imperative (Banks,1995; Dilworth, 1992) has been used to draw theconclusionboth essential and inescapablethat theeducational community must take action to alter thedisparities deeply embedded in the American educa-tional system. Documented and disseminated over anumber of years, evidence for the demographic im-perative includes statistics and other information inthree areasthe diverse student population, the ho-mogeneous teaching force, and the demographic di-vide (Gay & Howard, 2000; Hodgkinson, 2001,2002), or the marked disparities in educational oppor-tunities, resources and achievement among studentgroups that differ from one another racially, cultur-ally, linguistically, and socioeconomically.
Drawing on information collected for Census 2000,noted educational demographer Harold Hodgkinson(2001) pointed out that although some 40% of theschool population is now from racially and culturally di-verse groups, this varies dramatically (from 7% to 68%),depending on the state. Hodgkinson (2002) explains an-ticipated demographic changes:
Future population growth in the United States continues tobe uneven61% of the population increase in the next 20years will be Hispanic and Asian, about 40% Hispanic and20% Asian; but then, as now, 10 states will contain 90% ofthe Hispanic population, 10 will contain 90% of the Asianpopulation, and 7 will do both. Half of all Mexican Ameri-cans live in California! In fact, most of this increased di-versity will be absorbed by only about 300 of our 3,000[U.S.] counties.
If we look at what changes America, it is 1 million im-migrants a year, 4 million births, 2 million deaths, and 43million people moving each year. Transience is a majorfactor in crime rates, poor health care, and poor-perform-ing schools and states The worst performing states interms of the percentage of 19-year-olds who have bothgraduated from high school and been admitted to a college also are the states with the most transience and thehighest crime rates. (pp. 103104)
If projections are accurate, children of color will consti-tute the statistical majority of the student population by2035 and account for 57% by 2050 (U.S. Department ofCommerce, 1996; Villegas & Lucas, 2002a).
Meanwhile, due in part to declining enrollmentsamong Asian, Black, and Hispanic students in teachereducation programs with a proportionate increase in en-rollments in business majors, the teaching force is be-coming increasingly White European American(Hodgkinson, 2002). The most recent information avail-able on the nations teaching force suggests a profilethat is quite different from the student profile, withWhite teachers currently accounting for some 86% ofthe teaching force and teachers of color collectively ac-counting for only 14% (National Center for EducationStatistics, 1997). This pattern reflects a modest increasein the percentage of minority teachers since a low pointof only 7% in 1986. Information about who is currentlypreparing to teach indicates a pattern that is generallysimilar to that of the current teaching force (AmericanAssociation of Colleges for Teacher Education[AACTE], 1997, 1999; Dilworth, 1992; Howey, Arends,Galluzzo, Yarger, & Zimpher, 1994) with White stu-dents representing the vast majority (80%93%) of stu-dents enrolled in collegiate education programs,depending on institution and location. Although there isevidence that teacher education programs may be be-coming somewhat more diverse (AACTE, 1999) andsome alternate route programs are attracting more mi-nority students (Lauer, 2001), it seems clear that theteaching force will remain primarily White EuropeanAmerican for some time to come.
As has been pointed out, the demographic implica-tions for education are far greater than the obvious dif-ferences in the numbers, proportionately, betweenstudent and teaching populations. There are also markeddifferences in the biographies and experiences of mostteachers who are White European Americans from mid-dle-class backgrounds who speak only English, on theone hand, and the many students who are people ofcolor, and/or live in poverty, and/or speak a first lan-guage that is not English, on the other hand (Gay, 1993;Irvine, 1997). Teachers tend not to have the same cul-tural frames of reference and points of view as their stu-dents because, as Gay (1993) suggests, they live indifferent existential worlds (p. 287). Thus they oftenhave difficulty functioning as role models for students(Villegas & Lucas, 2002b) or as cultural brokers andcultural agents (Gay, 1993; Goodwin, 2000) who helpstudents bridge home-school differences. They also of-ten have difficulty constructing curriculum, instruction,and interactional patterns that are culturally responsive(Irvine, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1995), which means thatthe students in the greatest academic need are leastlikely to have access to educational opportunities con-gruent with their life experiences. Perhaps most serious,many White middle-class teachers understand diversityas a deficit to be overcome and have low expectationsand fears about students who are different from them-
Multicultural Perspectives Vol. 5, No. 3
selves, especially those in urban areas (Gay & Howard,2000; Irvine 1990; Valenzuela, 2002; Weiner, 1993;Yeo, 1997).
The third part of the demographic imperative has todo with the staggering disparities in educational out-comes and conditions for students with and without theadvantages conferred by race, culture, language, and so-cioeconomic status. Villegas and Lucas (2002a) offer anexcellent, but chilling, discussion of these disparitiesbased on standard sources of education statistics as wellas original analyses. They point out that the UnitedStates has the highest rate of children living in povertyamong advanced nations worldwide (Childrens DefenseFund, 2000), and that the percentage of Black and His-panic children living in poverty (42% and 40%, respec-tively) far exceeds the percentage of White children(16%; Kilborn, 1996). Further, they note that theachievement levels of Black and Hispanic students onthe National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) mathematics and reading assessments are con-sistently and markedly lower than levels for White stu-dents (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997,1998, 1999) as are high school graduation rates (Educa-tional Research Service, 1995; National EducationGoals Panel, 1994). Villegas and Lucas conclude thatthe consistent gap between racial/ethnic minority andpoor students and their White, middle-class peers isindicative of the inability of the educational system toeffectively teach students of color as schools have tradi-tionally been structured (p. 9).
In addition to staggering disparities in educationaloutcomes, it has long been documented that there aremajor discrepancies in allocation of resources (e.g.,equipment, supplies, physical facilities, books, access tocomputer technology, and class size) to urban, suburban,and rural schools (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Kozol,1991). A California lawsuit filed in 2000 by the Ameri-can Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of publicschool children in 18 California school districts points tocontinuation of this pattern. The suit charges that chil-dren who attend schools that lack basic learning toolssuch as books, materials, functioning toilet facilities,safe and infestation-free buildings and grounds, trainedteachers, and enough seats for all students are deprivedof fundamental educational opportunities. In the plain-tiffs schools, 96.4% of the student population are chil-dren of color, compared with 59% across the state(ACLUSouth California, 2000). Along these samelines, there is growing evidence that children of colorand children who live in urban or poor areas are themost likely to have teachers who are not fully qualifiedor licensed to teach (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Dar-ling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996).
What does all this add up to? What is the demo-graphic imperative for teacher education at the begin-
ning of the 21st century? In short, it is the recognitionthat bridging the chasm between the school and life ex-periences of those with and without social, cultural, ra-cial, and economic advantages requires fundamentalchanges in the ways teachers are educated. This does notmean that changing teacher education willin and of it-selfchange the schools or fix what is wrong withAmerican education. Weiner (1993) has argued cogentlyand persuasively that teacher preparation cannot changeschools, despite some expectations to the contrary. (Also...