Students of color now the majority, but work remains to ensure culturally relevant materials
- The Baltimore City Public Schools, the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida, and the School District of Philadelphia are among those working to revamp curriculum materials so they are more relevant to the diverse groups of students in their schools, according to a report released Thursday by Chiefs for Change.
- The report from the nonprofit network of state and district superintendents says too many books and other instructional materials lack information about or feature people of color, or they “reinforce exclusively negative experiences such as police brutality and incarceration — without commensurate attention to the triumphs and contributions of cultural minorities.”
- The report recommends that districts work with curriculum experts to review existing materials and replace outdated, low-quality texts and resources with culturally relevant and standards-aligned materials. It also urges districts to provide professional development related to newly adopted materials and work with colleges of education to ensure future teachers receive training in cultural relevance.
With students of color now comprising 50% of America's public school student population, and 80% of the student population in urban public schools, ensuring textbooks and other curriculum resources are culturally relevant is more important than ever.
Last year, Learning Forward — a professional organization for educators who lead professional learning — urged districts to make curriculum the primary focus of teachers’ professional learning communities (PLC). “This is the most authentic work I can think of for PLC time,” said Stephanie Hirsh, the organization’s executive director. The Chiefs for Change report also recommends that school leaders and parents are involved in reviewing materials, and it describes how officials in the Palm Beach district are telling textbook publishers that all of the diverse students in their schools need to be reflected in those books.
Louisiana is one example of where leaders have addressed curriculum quality from a statewide perspective. In addition to training teachers to serve as mentor teachers and lead PLCs focused on curriculum, the state has also created a curriculum rating resource that can be useful to other states and districts.
While research shows a strong curriculum can contribute to increases in student achievement, the Chiefs for Change report notes that culturally relevant teaching practices and materials can also “systematically remove prejudices about race and class and in honoring students’ diverse backgrounds.”
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