Using the Cultural Proficiency Framework to Address Equity Gaps in History-Social Science

By Graham, Stephanie; Lindsay, Randall | Social Studies Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Using the Cultural Proficiency Framework to Address Equity Gaps in History-Social Science


Graham, Stephanie, Lindsay, Randall, Social Studies Review


An undeniable condition in classrooms, schools, and school districts across this nation is the phenomenon known as the achievement gap. Research study after research study has documented the woeful and glaring gaps in achievement that exist between African-American, Latino and poor children and their white, Asian and middle class counterparts. Evidence of these gaps can be found within the studies referenced in the bibliography of this paper among a plethora of other studies and research. There are some who would like to turn a blind eye to this reality. There are some that argue that bringing up the disparities underscores a "deficit view" of the groups that are being underserved. The authors wish to be clear that correlation is not causation. Wide achievement gaps on state assessments and other attainment and opportunity gaps exist, but poverty and race do not determine one's destiny in education. Low achievement and attainment rates for some groups persist because we continue to provide to some student groups less of everything that the research say makes a difference in their learning. It is time to confront this educational condition. It is also time we turn the page of pointing the finger of blame at students and their communities for their underachievement. It is time for us to examine, instead, how well intentioned educational resources (people, time and materials) may be under-serving so many of our students.

The purose of this article is to guide the action of those willing and ready to confront the truth about the un-democratic educational outcomes for too many of our students. It does not intend to offer lesson designs for closing gaps. Instead, the authors intend to expose the elephant in the room, known as the achievement gap, and specifically to appeal to the History-Social Science educational community to lead efforts to educate about and narrow and close such gaps.

The achievement gaps evident in California and across this nation should be a concern for all educators but especially of concern for us as History-Social Science educators in at least these ways:

* The Civic Education Gap. As citizens of this nation, let alone as educators, we should be alarmed when specific cultural groups of students do not acquire and apply the participation and critical thinking skills that we know to be essential attributes of good citizenship in a democratic society.

* The Educational Opportunities and Achievement Gaps. As custodians and promoters of the basic principles of democracy, we should be particularly disquieted about access, learning, opportunity and achievement gaps that persist disproportionately for African American, Latino, and American Indian students and students of poverty, especially within the context of history curriculum frameworks and standards that extol the democratic efforts of our founding fathers and the democratic values inherent in our founding documents.

* The Knowledge and Historical Accuracy Gap. As educators responsible for promoting in our students historical, ethical, cultural, geographic, economic and sociopolitical literacy, we should question our own literacy gaps and inquire about the gaps inherent in History-Social Science frameworks, standards and resources that reinforce a "story well told" for some of our students and a story of distortions, omissions, and inaccuracies for others.

Each of the above concerns is the tip of a larger iceberg of concern known as the "equity gap" in public schools, a gap that is as well documented as the many factors that make some of our students vulnerable and place them at a disadvantage from the time they begin school. These gaps exist when specific group of students are not provided access to educational opportunities or do not achieve at the expected levels. While these gaps are not caused by racial, ethnic, economic, linguistic group membership, they correlate disturbingly with cultural group membership. …

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