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Coalition Says Using a Culturally Based Education Model Could Help Close Achievement Gap


Teachers must be sensitive and inclusive to all students’ cultural backgrounds, educators and advocacy organizations said during a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

The briefing, “Culturally Based Teaching: A Model for Student Success, ” provided educators and student advocates with the opportunity to share their views and provide federal policymakers with first-hand accounts on how using a culturally based education model will empower students and help close the achievement gap.

The teaching model encourages quality instructional practices rooted in cultural and linguistically relevant contexts. During the briefing, many of the panelists agreed that educators and advocacy organizations must provide statistical data and other information to encourage lawmakers to support and fund the cultural-based teaching model.

The event sponsor, Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE), acts as a diverse coalition of national organizations representing communities of color that believe high schools should prepare every student for graduation, college, work and life.

Dr. Sheryl Denbo, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, which works with educators to close the achievement gap among students in Mid-Atlantic states including Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, said students who feel that their culture is validated in school will be more likely to participate and take an active role in advancing their education.

“We’re not asking for something that’s just for Latino students, we’re not asking for something that’s just for African-American students [and] we’re not asking for something that’s just for working-class students,” Denbo said. “We’re looking for something that’s for everyone.”

Dr. Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, president of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA),

shared NIEA’s research on the impact of culturally based curricula in public schools and communities.

“These approaches include recognizing and utilizing native languages as a first or second language that can incorporate traditional cultural characteristics and involve teaching strategies that are harmonious with the native culture knowledge and contemporary ways of knowing and learning,” said Gilbert in an earlier statement.

Gilbert highlighted that the new model has led students to be more academically and socially successful. According to the NIEA, this teaching model transcends only teaching language and culture to students, as it is a systematic approach to incorporating cultural ways into thinking, learning and problem-solving.

“If we are to make change in the educational system, we have to include everyone,” Gilbert said.

Rushern L. Baker III, executive director of the Community Teachers Institute, also spoke, highlighting how the institute has prepared culturally competent teachers. The institute is a national nonprofit organization that supports the creation of programs, policies and partnerships to train and develop teachers working in communities of color.

Baker noted that in many teaching communities, there is a majority-minority student population with a mostly White female teaching population. He said not only do these teachers need to be more sensitive to students’ cultural backgrounds, but teachers must also be culturally confident in themselves.

He added that schools must put more effort into recruiting minority teachers who are more likely to be culturally sensitive.

Gilbert echoed Baker’s sentiments later in the discussion, saying that in many school districts teachers generally do not live in the same community as their students.

Dr. Luis A. Vázquez, associate graduate school dean at New Mexico State University, said that students will be more likely to excel academically if they can relate to what is being taught.

Vázquez used his parents as an example. One only made it to the fourth grade and the other to the seventh grade. He added that the lack of cultural identity in his family members’ school curriculum was generational.

“Nothing in the textbooks looked like them, nothing related to them,” Vázquez said, adding that students today do not need to feel like “they are guests in somebody else’s house” while in school.

“Our students need to have some ‘KICS,” he added, referencing to acronym, which stands for Knowledge in Interpersonal Communication Skills. K.I.C.S. is a tenant that is part of the Academic Cultural Competence Teaching (ACCT) model.

Educators at New Mexico State University use the model to encourage Hispanic students to develop a strong academic identity. Also part of the model’s three tenants is Collaborative Learning and Student Success (CLASS) and Teaching Academic Skills and Knowledge (TASK).

Other speakers during the briefing included Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and Michael Wotorson, director of community partnerships at the Campaign for High School Equity and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

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