What Do Graduates Say about Multicultural Teacher Education?

Article excerpt

Rationale for the Study

The former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, Arthur Levine (2006) questioned the connection between what one learns in pre-service teacher education programs and what one does as a teacher. From a meta-analysis of several studies he found that:

A shockingly low percentage of principals said that their teachers were very or moderately well prepared to meet the needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds (28 percent); to work with parents (21 percent); and to help students with limited English proficiency (16 percent). (p. 4)

Since we have also been concerned about the education of diverse student populations in California, his question is consistent with the purpose of this study. We wanted to assess the impact that our teacher preparation course on multicultural education has had on teachers' self-perceptions and practices as multicultural educators. Lowenstein (2009) stated that not enough work has been done to determine the impact of multicultural education courses on teacher candidates once they are in the field. Although California assessments for teachers assess content background and instruction, there is a dearth of assessments on teachers' capacity to work with culturally diverse learners.

In teacher education programs in California, multicultural education has been included as part of credentialing programs for more than two decades, and yet little is known about what effect these programs have on teachers' epistemologies and practices. While there have been national studies that have evaluated the connection between teacher education and classroom practices (Levine, 2006), the overall research base for teacher education is thin (Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2003; Lauer, 2001; Wilson & Floden, 2001; Zeichner, 1999). There is little research (Ambrosio, 2001) that explored the sustainability of multicultural ideology and practice among alumni. As Lowenstein (2009) stated, "What continues to remain absent are systematic studies of teacher candidates' reflections on their learning about issues of diversity" (p. 177).

According to Banks and Banks (2001), multicultural education has a specific purpose:

* [I]ts major aim is to create equal educational opportunities for students from diverse racial, ethnic, social-class, and cultural groups. One of its important goals is to help all students to acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic society and to interact, negotiate, and communicate with peoples from diverse groups in order to create a civic and moral community that works for the common good. (p. xi)

While most teacher education programs claim to prepare teachers to work with a diverse student population and incorporate practices that are consistent with the principles of multicultural education, the profession has generally had little data to verify that teachers prepared in these programs actually identify themselves as multicultural educators and use multicultural education practices in their school settings. Christine Sleeter, former Vice President for the American Educational Research Association's Division K, issued a call to action for more research to follow teacher education graduates into the classroom, especially with regard to multicultural education (Sleeter, 2001). Thus, the intent of this study is to add to the knowledge base on the impact of multicultural pre-service education on classroom teachers' beliefs and practices.

The authors mailed surveys to alumni and, based on the responses to these surveys, located teachers who volunteered to participate in the qualitative component of the study. We conducted interviews with these teachers using questions about how they used multicultural principles in their practice, what support they received from their school sites, and what courses/activities in the teacher preparation program were significant to their practice. …