In what ways are American schools failing culturally diverse students? Today, about one in ten Americans is foreign born, and the native language of well over 30 million Americans is a language other than English. By 2030, half of all school children will be of color. Hispanic, Native American, and African American students score consistently lower on standardized tests than do their Asian and white classmates. Yet, almost half of the nation's historically under-resourced populations, Hispanic, African American, and Native American, are not graduating from high school. And students from low-income families are far more likely to drop out of school than are the children of the wealthy.
How do deficit, expectation, and cultural difference theories explain disparate academic performance among various racial, ethnic, and cultural groups? Most white Americans believe that schools offer equitable educational opportunities to all children, and do not "see" the invisible privileges that many enjoy. Deficit, expectation, and cultural difference theories offer various explanations for the academic gaps that characterize different group performance in America's schools.
How do metaphors like "melting pot" and "tossed salad" both capture and mask American identity? Traditionally, Americans viewed their identity as a simplistic melting pot, where the historical and cultural differences of immigrants are lost and a new American is forged. The tossed salad image views Americans as honoring their past cultures as well as their new nationality. Perhaps both are simplistic perceptions, but they influence people's mindset a great deal.
What are the political and instructional issues surrounding bilingual education? In Lau v. Nichols (1974), the Supreme Court ruled that schools were deficient in their treatment of students with limited English proficiency. Many schools subsequently established a variety of bilingual programs. Some programs teach students in their native language until they learn English (the transitional approach), others teach in both languages (the maintenance approach), and some use English as a Second Language (ESL). Studies suggest that many bilingual programs often fall short of their goals, and some critics advocate fast-paced immersion (also termed "submersion"), an effort supported by those who want English to be declared the "official" American language. The future direction of bilingual education may be as much a political determination as an instructional one.
What are the purposes and approaches of multicultural education? Multicultural education has multiple purposes, including expanding the curriculum to reflect the national diversity; expanding teaching strategies to respond to different learning styles; promoting the multicultural competence of teachers; and a commitment to social justice, to work and teach toward local and global equity. James Banks identifies four levels of a multicultural curriculum: contributions, additive, transformation, and social action. Those opposed to multicultural education fear it emphasizes differences at the expense of national unity, and takes time from critical academic subjects.
Why is culturally responsive teaching important? As America's demographics become increasingly diverse, teachers will be expected to understand the needs and cultural learning styles of students with backgrounds very different from their own. Culturally responsive teaching, as described by Gloria Ladson-Billings, focuses on mediating the frequent mismatch between the home and school cultures. Understanding and rejecting stereotypes, formulating generalizations about groups and then their educational assets can offer a practical introduction for planning instruction.
How can teachers use culturally responsive teaching strategies? In addition to recognizing cultural learning styles and bridging school and community cultures, a number of teaching specific strategies are also suggested. These range from an inclusive curriculum reflecting all groups, to inclusive classroom interactions where all students, even the quiet ones, contribute to the learning community. Tomorrow's teachers will need to plan for diversity, which means using a variety of classroom strategies and techniques to respond to different learning styles.