Culturally Responsive Instruction: Incorporating Students' Cultural Backgrounds into the Daily, Standards-Based Instructional Program Leads to Improvements in Learning and Teaching

Article excerpt

The American educational system was designed for students from two-parent nuclear families with middle class money and values, who came to school with all the necessary materials and preparation. However, these "ideal" students are not the only ones who walk through the doors of the schoolhouse every morning. The real students of today are from various ethnicities, financial backgrounds and family structures (Kunjufu, 2002).

To add to this disparity between who the educational system was created for and who is actually being served, there is now a strict accountability system that requires all students to achieve at high levels. Otherwise, schools and districts suffer the consequences at both the state and federal levels.

The disparity between the scores of white and Asian students and their darker skinned counterparts is what is currently referred to as the achievement gap. It is also known as an opportunity gap, implying that some students are given greater opportunities than other students to learn in ways that allow them to demonstrate proficiency.

While differences in achievement results have always existed as a result of the design of the educational system, it is only recently that educators are responsible for addressing these concerns and teaching all students so that they learn all of the material.

Role of No Child Left Behind

Along with providing additional financial resources, the No Child Left Behind legislation adds important accountability provisions to Title I of ESEA and establishes an expectation for real progress in raising overall student achievement and increasing parent involvement.

The accountability provisions require states to set clear timelines for improving student achievement, with particular emphasis on closing achievement gaps between low-income and minority students and their peers. The new reporting provisions ensure that parents and the public will have a better sense of how schools are doing (The Education Trust, 2005).

While the underlying intentions of the NCLB legislation are noble, NCLB has not shown to be practical for ensuring that all students achieve the expected proficiency levels. African American, Latino and English learner students' lack of progress in particular has led to a number of educational fads that schools and districts are implementing with the hope that they will increase achievement for all students. However, very few of the solutions explicitly address the underlying racial and cultural disconnect between students and their educators.

What is culturally responsive, standards-based instruction?

Culturally responsive, standards-based instruction (CRSBI) is a teaching style that validates and incorporates students' cultural background, ethnic history and current societal interests into daily, standards-based instruction. It addresses socio-emotional needs and uses ethnically and culturally diverse material (Banks, 1991; Gay, 2000).

Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) states that it is a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally and politically by using cultural and historical references to convey knowledge, impart skills and change attitudes.

The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning (2007) defines culture and its difference from race and class as "the way life is organized within an identifiable community or group. This includes the ways that communities use language, interact with one another, take turns to talk, relate to time and space and approach learning. There are group patterns that exist, which reflect the standards or norms used by community members to make sense of the world."

There are five components to CRSBI: caring, communication, curriculum, instruction and a focus on California content standards. All five components must be in place, and no one component is of more value than any other, for they are all equally essential to the effective instruction of our current culture of students (Boykin, 1994). …