Developing Socio-Political Active Teachers: A Model for Teacher Professional Development

By Cadiero-Kaplan, Karen; Billings, Elsa S. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Developing Socio-Political Active Teachers: A Model for Teacher Professional Development


Cadiero-Kaplan, Karen, Billings, Elsa S., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

Today's schools mirror the increasing diversity found across the United States (U's.). In addition to racial and cultural diversity, our schools also experience linguistic diversity. According to the U's. Census, roughly 20% of the population speaks a language other than English in the home (U's. Census Bureau 20061). There are 4.4 million English language learners in public school in the United States. California serves more than 40% of these students. In California, English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest growing student group, with nearly 1.6 million ELL students in 2006-2007 (California Department of Education, 2007 Educational Demographics Office (2)).

These statistics demonstrate a population shift within our classrooms. Nonetheless, the American teaching force remains mono-cultural and monolingual, with the majority of teachers being white and speaking only English (California Department of Education 2007; LadsonBillings 1999). In addition, many teachers come from or live in economic conditions very different from their students (Ladson-Billings 1999). Thus, while research demonstrates that teacher knowledge must include a deep understanding of students. backgrounds (DarlingHammond 1997 (3); Gandara & Rumberger 2006), in reality, there is an ethnic, linguistic, and class disconnect between teachers and the students they teach. This disconnect occurs at a fundamental, pedagogical level, in which teachers often lack the distinct pedagogical knowledge necessary in teaching ELLs (August & Hakuta 1997; Bryk & Schneider 2004; Gandara & Rumberger 2006). However, it also occurs on a socio-political level in which the majority of teachers are not prepared for the political battlefield upon which they often find themselves, as educators and advocates for their diverse student population. The education of linguistically and culturally diverse students both internationally and in the United States occurs within a larger political and social context; one that includes issues of immigration, distribution of wealth and power, and the empowerment of students (Varghese & Stritikus 2005: 73).

Recently, the socio-political context of language education in The United States has become more charged. On January 8, 2002, Title VII, also known as the Bilingual Education Act, was eliminated as part of a larger school reform known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) and replaced by the English Language Acquisition Act. The long-standing tension between multiculturalists and multilingualists bilingual policies has once again moved toward policies favoring assimilationists and monolingualist version of language policies (Varghese & Stritikus 2005: 73).

While many teacher education and graduate level programs are currently seeking to better prepare their teachers with the methods and skills needed to effectively teach diverse students, very few programs tackle the broader socio-political and policy issues that in fact impact the teaching learning processes, specifically educational policy, in which the education of ELLs is situated. According to Bartolome,

The task of successfully preparing teachers in the United States to effectively work with an ever-increasing culturally and linguistically diverse student body represents a pressing challenge for teacher educators. Unfortunately, much of this practice of equipping prospective teachers for working with learners from different backgrounds revolves around exposing these future educators to what are perceived as the best practical strategies to ensure the academic and linguistic development of their students. Gaining access to and actively creating methods and materials for the classroom is certainly an important step towards effective teaching. However, this practical focus far too often occurs without examining teachers' own assumptions, values, and beliefs and how this ideological posture informs, often unconsciously, their perceptions and actions when working with linguistic-minority and other politically, socially, and economically subordinated students (Bartolome 2004: 97). …

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