Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Multicultural Education and the Standards Movement - A Report from the Field

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Multicultural Education and the Standards Movement - A Report from the Field

Article excerpt

There is a very real possibility, the authors warn, that the current obsession with standardizing curricula and measuring output will further reduce teacher agency and further marginalize segments of our society that are already seriously cheated by the system. It is time to exert pressure on state legislatures to attend to these issues.

A RECENT study of multicultural education and elementary school teachers in a large Midwestern school district, conducted by Anita Bohn, has detected early warning signs that the multicultural education reform movement is in peril. Between its inception in late 1997 and its conclusion in the early months of 1999, this study documented a marked decline in teacher and administrator concern about multicultural education.

The culprit? Both teachers and administrators in the school district blame new state standards and anticipated state assessments, which have put pressure on school districts to standardize and emphasize content at the expense of any other concerns. Conversations we have had with colleagues around the country suggest that this is not an isolated phenomenon. Multicultural education appears to be in very real danger of getting shelved as the preoccupation with national and state standards and testing intensifies.

Those monitoring the effects of the standards movement on multicultural education are deeply concerned that the development of new standards is occurring in an increasingly repressive climate. In California, for example, the successive passage of Propositions 187, 209, and 227 reflects a climate of growing xenophobia. Many observers believe that propositions such as these are being used to legitimate ignoring the issues that marginalized groups face and the strategies that have worked in empowering marginalized communities. Some California school administrators, for example, have been heard to comment that, now that Proposition 227 has passed, bilingual education teachers are no longer needed. This attitude, of course, ignores the fact that the children are still there, the issues are still there, and the professional and community knowledge about effective strategies is still there.1 Informal reports from the field indicate that California is not unique in this trend.

State-mandated curriculum standards are clearly the order of the day. Every state except Iowa is either developing or has already established curriculum standards, and the vast majority of states also have formal assessments linked to their standards. It will take time, however, before the real extent of the impact of enforceable curriculum standards on multicultural education is known. We hope that this knowledge will not come too late to avoid wiping out the progress that has been made in democratizing and pluralizing education.

How Standards Interact With Multicultural Education

The interaction of standards and multicultural education is complex. Although we are deeply concerned that the standards movement today is subverting multicultural education, we want to state up front that standards per se are not necessarily antithetical to multicultural education. Standards can call attention to multiculturalism and can actually open up space for people to address it. When one of the authors was in Wisconsin, her university position was a direct result of a set of state requirements that teacher preparation programs provide teachers with a background in multicultural education. Nebraska, to cite another example, has a state requirement that the K- 12 curriculum address multiculturalism, a mandate that has caused school districts to decide what that will mean and how to develop training in multicultural education. Standards can open up that kind of discourse.

Standards can also make explicit what students will be tested on, a detail that may help parents and community leaders at least know what the "game" is and what the students will be judged on. …

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