Assessing Student Multicultural Attitudes, Knowledge, and Skills in Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

Although the teacher education profession's recent attention to multicultural education is to be lauded, research needs to be conducted to attempt to define what constitutes an effective program. This discourse has become increasingly more important given the rapidly changing demographics of the United States. The decade of 1990-2000 witnessed a 57% increase in the United States foreign-born population ... The US Census Bureau (2000) predicts that people of color will make up 38% of the nation's population by 2025 and 47% by 2050. Schools are increasingly culturally diverse and, according to Gollnick and Chinn (2004), more than one third of the school population today is comprised of children of color while the teaching force is "86.5% white and 75% female" (p. 4). While the demographics of the undergraduate population in this study are similar to those cited by Gollnick and Chinn, the graduate population is much more racially diverse and includes more males.

This research is based on the premise that teachers need to be effective in creating teaching~learning experiences for ALL students (Huber, 2002) and that all teacher candidates can become more effective in developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions to do so. Regardless of the background of the school professional or the backgrounds of the students, all teachers need to be effective in teaching all students successfully.

Both of the commonly used terms in discussion here, multiculturalism and core curricula, are highly contested in education today according to Fitzgerald and Lauter (1995). The perspective taken in this analysis is that common multicultural experiences in core programs provide sources of bonding, discussion, and shared work for students. According to Ladson-Billings (1995), one of the cutting edge trends in multicultural teacher education is the examination of classroom practices of successful teachers in diverse classrooms.

Awareness, Knowledge, and Skill Levels about and Working with Diverse Populations

Neville, Heppner, Louie, Thompson, Brooks, and Baker (1996) found that a one-semester, multicultural issues in therapy course appears to be related to white individuals' adoptions of more positive, non-racist, White identities. This and other related studies lend support and encouragement for professionals who may need to obtain more training in the multicultural area to best meet the needs of their current and future students and serve their ever-diversifying clientele more competently.

Ridley, Mendoza, and Kanitz (1994) noted "the evaluation of multicultural counseling training is critical if the goal of providing quality services to all clients is to be effectively met" (p. 274). The focus on evaluation of training effectiveness and the acquisition of multicultural therapy competencies has become increasingly more important to our changing society as noted by Neville et al. (1996). With increased exposure to multicultural issues will awareness, knowledge, and skill levels about and working with diverse populations result? According to Sue (1991) and D'Andrea, Daniels, and Heck (1991), some researchers outlined training models while others focused on the evaluation of training effectiveness. Specifically, in this inquiry, primary focus was on whether courses result in awareness, knowledge, and skills for professionals to deal with the diversification of the student populations?

One attempt to assist teachers in understanding and working more successfully with diverse populations is the enactment of requirements regarding multicultural/diversity education for prospective educators and other professionals working in an educational setting (e.g., administrators, principals, counselors, nurses) and for teachers seeking recertification. A goal of multicultural education cited by Cochran-Smith (2004) "is to improve race relations and to help all students acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to participate in cross-cultural interactions and in personal, social, and civic action that will help make our nation more democratic and just" (pp. …