The goal of this project is to promote greater cultural equality and improve the policies of the Seventy High School to ensure that its community of African-American students receives a high-quality education. More specifically, the overrepresentation of the African-American students in special education classes is an issue that will be studied in depth in this school improvement plan because, according to Liou and Rotheram-Fuller (2019), this overrepresentation is partially caused by bias and tutor’s lack of cultural training. This project will be tailored towards the cultural diversity issues at the Seventy-First High School, Cumberland County, Fayetteville, NC, and the action plan will include recommendations that the administration of this school can apply to improve the learning of the African-American students.
Statement of Diversity Issue
At the Cumberland County Schools school, the majority of students are African-American, yet the staff of this school is not trained to provide a culturally competent education for these children. As a result, many of them fall behind their curriculum or need special education.
The US education system in general and the policies at the school lack elements that would allow teaching the African-American students in a culturally inclusive manner. According to Nieto and Boden (2012), the education system must be adapted to the ideas of pluralism, which is the concept that accepts the diverse cultures and experiences that the students, teachers, and the community have. Moreover, multicultural education is in alignment with the principles of democracy (Liou and Rotheram-Fuller, 2019).
The policymakers have long tried to improve the existing education system and address the issues that object students from accessing high-quality education. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act allows children from disadvantaged communities to have access to the resources needed to study. This act also sets the “Adequate Yearly Progress” standard under which the students must perform to a certain level of proficiency in subjects such as math. This helps schools and states that provide funding to education facilities track the students’ progress and ensure that the education policies within the facility allow the learners to gain the necessary competencies. However, little attention, both within the federal education laws and local policies, is dedicated to ensuring that teachers are prepared to deliver culturally competent education. In fact, although the majority of students at Cumberland County School are African-American, the teachers report receiving little or no training that would allow them to understand how to approach the classes considering cultural competency.
The particular issue that this school improvement plan will focus on is the over-representation of African-American students in the special education classes. The special education classes are designed to accommodate the individual differences of students (Liou & Rotheram-Fuller, 2019). However, the high number of African-American students in special education classrooms points to the fact that the teaching staff does not possess sufficient knowledge to accommodate the needs of these children as a part of the regular classes. Hence, the school’s policies need to be adapted and changed to ensure that teachers receive sufficient training on how to teach the African-American community, and the HR policies must be adapted to ensure that this school employs a diverse set of educators.
Therefore, the students at this school are affected because they do not receive the education that the federal law guarantees for them and the level of proficiency set by the No Child Left Behind Act without having to attend the special education classes. The latter can be replaced with the cultural training of the teachers, who could adjust their curriculums to ensure that the students understand the material. Notably, this school has not attempted to respond to the issue before, which is why there are many gaps in the policies regarding cultural diversity and the practical implementation of cultural inclusion.
Multicultural Focus and Supporting Literature
This section will begin by detailing the issues that African-American students face within the current education system that exists in the United States. The issues of inclusivity and diversity are pressing for the United States education system, especially when considering African-American children who study at institutions where the majority of the students are white. According to Eakins et al. (2017), only recently the African-American community has begun to voice concerns regarding the issues of representation in schools, such as lack of facilities and diversity of staff members.
The inclusion of perspectives that consider varied cultures has become an important topic in the field of education research and policy design in recent years. Multicultural education is defined by Liou and Rotheram-Fuller (2019) as a type of learning that considers the values, beliefs, and history of a particular community or group. This may include the religion and the history of a particular group that an educator incorporates into a lesson to help students understand the context better and relate what is learned to their own values and knowledge. The idea behind culturally inclusive education is that it can promote the success of the students and help them integrate into the education process better. Moreover, Liou and Rotheram-Fuller (2019) note that representatives of some cultural groups report facing barriers during their studies, which can be removed by employing the practice of multiculturality. Thus, multiculturalism allows for equality in education because the traditional system is built on the European values and perspectives of learning and fails to consider the cultural contexts of the diverse classrooms where students differ in their ethnicity, race, gender, and other characteristics.
Another element of multiculturality is the idea that the way people think and perceive information is linked to their culture. Hence, teachers must modify the curriculum and the explanation techniques they use to tailor towards the needs of some students groups. On the other hand, if applied properly, this approach helps the students learn more effectively. EdGlossary (n.d.) argues that the education system in the United States is based on Eurocentric values, which fails to address the specifics of the Asian and African-American cultures, leading to the students from these cultural groups face barriers and struggle when navigating the education system. Considering this, one can assume that teachers may refer students who do not learn in a way that is considered normal from a Eurocentric perspective to special education classes, which shows the bias that the existing system subjects students to.
The goal of multiculturalism in education is the provision of equal opportunities for all students irrespective of their backgrounds. According to EdGlossary (n.d.), “multicultural education is generally predicated on the principle of equity—i.e., that the allocation and distribution of educational resources, programs, and learning experiences should be based on need and fairness, rather than strict equality” (para. 10). The importance of multiculturality is also liked to the way the perceptions of educators and policymakers affect the achievements of the students. Liou and Rotheram-Fuller (2019) state that teacher’s expectations towards different groups of students differ, and those affect the latter’s performance. For example, the design of the tests that students undertake may consider only some aspects of learning that are not prevalent in other cultures, and therefore, students from these cultures are at a disadvantage because they do not have an equal opportunity to succeed when undertaking these tests. Hence, as per Liou and Rotheram-Fuller’s (2019) assessment, teachers may perceive some ethnic groups as more talented, for example, in math, while viewing others as less gifted. This subconscious bias may affect the way they design tasks and develop assignments for these student groups, as well as the encouragement or appraisal that these students receive. All of these factors will have an impact on how the students perceive themselves, their capabilities, and how they approach their studies in general.
Liou and Rotheram-Fuller (2019) link the development of multicultural education theory with the Civil Rights Movement and the African-American culture. This movement proclaimed the importance of providing equal opportunities to all people, including equal opportunity in education. However, within the current education system, there are still a plethora of subconscious biases that impact the way that teachers work and students learn. Hence, although from a policymakers’ perspective, there are laws and policies that help students, even those from disadvantaged communities, get access to education, the reality of the system does not prepare the teachers to work in culturally diverse environments.
Despite the importance of multicultural education being recognized by the policymakers and individual schools, there are still barriers to the implementation of this strategy in practice. For example, one issue is the insufficient training that teachers receive, which means that they have little understanding of the specifics and strategies they can apply to help their African-American students.
Railevna (2017) argues that one of the issues that obstruct multiculturalism in education is the virtualization of communication. Communication serves as a basic means for understanding one another and communicating the basic values and attitudes that guide one’s behavior. As a result of virtualization, for example, communicating with students using emails, this element of understanding culture becomes less relevant. Moreover, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtualization of communication in education has become even more evident and relevant since, for a period of time, all communication between teachers and students was managed through online classes. Although the classes are returning to normal and teachers can communicate with students non virtually, the general use of technology and the experience of online learning have had an effect on the communication process.
Apart from understanding the cultures of the students in class, the teachers face a barrier of managing lessons where this cultural competence is used to help students. More specifically, teachers may find it difficult to be inclusive when teaching diverse students because they have to put more effort into creating lessons and explaining concepts in a manner that would be suitable for different cultures. On the other hand, the objective of the multicultural approach is to provide equal opportunities to all students without bias, which means that it is vital for educators to strive to achieve success. Banks and Banks (2019) recommend schools and educators focus on the promotion of cultural democracy within their communities, which would help enhance the inclusivity and understanding of different cultures. One example is encouraging students to share details about their cultures with their fellow students and educators. Next, Banks and Banks (2019) states that teachers should focus on the promotion of achievements of all students, and this should be done considering the cultural biases and specifics of the values and beliefs pertaining to a certain culture.
The following two recommendations by Banks and Banks (2019) are the specific steps that will be used in the action plan presented in the next section of this paper. The first step is to gain cultural competency, which educators can achieve by participating in workshops, watching videos, or reading texts on cultural competence in education. This is a self-evident step that would help teachers understand the classroom specifics and the individual characteristics of their students. However, considering the amount of work that teachers are already burdened with, one can argue that schools and administration should focus on developing policies that would encourage teachers to learn about multiculturalism and offer workshops or training sessions that would help them achieve this goal. Hence, cooperation between the administration and the educators is necessary to address the issue of multiculturality in the classrooms.
The final recommendation offered by Banks and Banks (2019) is the development of skills that would help educators be more assertive towards different cultures and multiculturality. It is important to understand that teachers’ attitudes may form a bias towards a certain group of students based on their race or gender, which will affect the expectations and the communication between the educator and the students. Hence, the development of cultural skills is vital for ensuring that teachers understand diverse cultures and can recognize their own biases towards different communities.
The researchers in the field of multiculturality in education have proposed to focus the efforts on the development of teacher’s competencies and capabilities to enable their better comprehension of the varied cultures and how these affect learning. The majority of this research has focused on assessing the barriers that do not allow multiculturality to become an integral part of the education system. One of the crucial barriers is the lack of communication and virtualization of interactions between students and teachers, which may worsen the issue of cultural bias in the future. The next section will address the specific actions that this school can take to help improve the teacher’s understanding of multiculturalism.
Action Plan and Rationale
The goal of this paper is to ensure that the education provided to the African-American students is sufficient and tailored to their educational needs, which means that fewer students will be placed in the special education classes. The goal of this plan is to ensure that the school’s policies are changed and that the teachers are provided with culturally competent training that will help them address the needs of their African-American students. As this is an action plan, there will be several recommendations regarding the policies and practices at this high school that can help enhance the cultural competence of the educators.
What Will b Be Done
As demonstrated in the literature review, one of the issues with culturally inclusive education, as pointed out by the African-American community, is the lack of diversity among the teachers who would bring cultural awareness to the school’s community. Hence, the first step of this action plan is to adjust the hiring policies and ensure that the school employs a diverse set of educators. Diversity as an integral part of the HR policies is an important step towards inclusivity and enhancing cultural awareness because if this school has more teachers that represent different ethnic groups and who have diverse personal backgrounds, these teachers can become advocates for their students. Hence, the rationale behind changing the HR policies and making diversity an integral part of the HR strategy of this school is the need to have teachers who understand how the Eurocentric culture of education fails to accommodate other ethnicities and cultures.
The next step of the action plan targets the teacher-student communication and the way this can facilitate a better understanding of cultures. Cultures can be learned through communication, and as Railevna (2019) noted, the virtualization of communication in the modern world is an issue that can worsen the biases towards diverse classroom environments. With COVID-19, it has become especially difficult to ensure that educators and students communicate sufficiently and in a way that is productive. To overcome this barrier, the school has to create an environment where teachers and students can communicate and dedicate time to learning about cultural diversity. For example, holding events where different communities of students talk about their culture, specifics of it, and how this affects their learning style can be an effective measure to connect the teachers’ and students’ perspectives on learning.
The environment where students can communicate their cultural values to the teachers can be a special event dedicated to children explaining what they know about their cultures, how they practice their cultures at home and the students’ perspectives on how these affect their learning. These Culture Nights can be held once per school year, and the first event should be dedicated to the African American culture since this project focuses on a large number of students in the special education classes. The rationale behind establishing culture nights is that under the sociocultural theory, the learning process is an integral part of social interaction. Hence, by establishing this event, the school’s administration also creates a social environment that is suitable for exchanging cultural knowledge and addresses the issue of communication virtualization.
Another issue is that a larger number of African American students are placed into special education classes, which points to the potential issues with the way these students are taught. Hence, one policy change that this school should implement is the need to do an assessment of the teaching and testing practices when a large number of students from one ethnic group are sent to special education classes. This should help the administration understand if there is a gap in the way the teachers address the learning needs of these students or if the education issue is, in fact, the student’s special needs.
The final step of the action plan is the need to encourage the educators to learn about the African American culture. The administration of the school can achieve this by inviting the teachers to participate in workshops. Unlike the Culture Nights led by the students, these workshops will be specifically dedicated to explaining how to integrate the cultural perspective into learning and how some biases towards the African American students may affect the way teachers perceive them. Although these workshops should not be mandatory, the administration should encourage the participating and evaluate their effectiveness ask the teachers to complete a pre and post cultural competence test.
Who Will Participate
For the first part of this action plan, both the students and the teachers will participate. The students will be encouraged to form groups and create presentations about their culture. The teachers can participate by preparing short presentations about how the African American cultural perspective can be integrated into the education process by discussing some approaches to learning that educators can leverage in their classes specific to this ethnic group. The administration of the school will be responsible for the preparation process, such as selecting time, date, preparing the room for a presentation, inviting students, parents, and teachers, and ordering snacks. To change the HR and hiring practices, the administration has to collaborate with the school’s HR manager and create a new diversity hiring strategy.
For the second part of this action plan, the school administration will inform the teachers of the new policy regarding special education and the need for teachers to take part in the special education workshops. The teachers will be in charge of preparing the workshops, and the target should be to have at least two workshops per school year dedicated to different cultures, starting with the specifics of African American learning.
Evidently, the policy changes, cultural awareness events, reassessments, and workshops will require financial and human resources to carry out this action plan. First and foremost, the school administration should create a budget plan dedicated specifically to cultural diversity issues. Additionally, considering that both the teachers and the students are typically occupied with teaching and learning during the school year, an essential resource for this action plan is finding the time and date when both parties will be able to actively participate in learning about the culture they are unfamiliar with. For the reassessments of the special education classes, the school will have to create a board consisting of teachers whose opinions would be unbiased and not affected by their relations with other members of the staff. Finally, to change the HR hiring practices towards increasing the diversity of the workforce, the administration may need to dedicate financial resources to support the additional training of the HR personnel.
Although the administration of the school will initiate the described activities, it is important for the students and educators to take the initiative when preparing them because it will guarantee engagement. Hence, the task of the schools’ headmaster is to communicate the goal of these activities, which is to ensure equality among the learners and to help the teachers understand their students better. The students can be offered extra credit for their participation in preparing the events, while the teachers should be provided with the free time needed to research the topic of multiculturality and create a dedicated workshop.
Activities and Timetable
Table 1. Activities and timetable (created by the author)
|Name||Date and time||Description|
|Culture Nights presented by the African-American students||End of the current semester||A group of African-American students from the special education class will prepare a 30-minute presentation about their culture, values, and how these impact their attitudes towards learning.|
|Teacher’s cultural competency workshop||End of the current semester||Two teachers working with the African-American students from the special education class will prepare a workshop presenting their findings on the inclusion of the African-American culture into the classes.|
|Special education classes reassessment||End of the current semester||The reassessment board will evaluate whether the placement of the students into the special education class was justified or if it is a result of the lack of cultural competence of the educators.|
|Diverse hiring HR policy||Beginning of the next semester||The school administration will discuss the new HR strategy with the HR manager to ensure that the newly hired personnel is diverse.|
This plan adheres to the sociocultural approach to multicultural education. Mainly, under the sociocultural theory by Vygotsky, learning occurs primarily during social interactions, and this action plan encourages the students to share their perceptions on culture and education when communicating with their teachers. The goal of encouraging this interaction is the reduction of prejudice towards a certain ethnic group, which is a part of the multicultural theory. Hence, this action plan leverages the sociocultural theory of learning and the literature findings and recommendations regarding the barriers to multicultural learning.
This action plan will increase the cultural proficiency in the setting because it will encourage two important aspects of understanding multiculturalism: talking about it and learning about different cultures. Apart from the students sharing their views on cultures, the administration will have a system of encouragement for the teachers that will incentivize them to create multiculturalism workshops and participate in them. Next, the system of assessments developed for the special education classes will help the administrator control the cultural proficiency of the staff. For example, with this action plan, the goal is to reduce the number of African-American students in special education classes. However, if once this goal is achieved and the number of Asian-American students in these classes increases, the administration will need to reassess the classes to determine if the teachers need additional cultural awareness workshops. Hence, this action plan will create a school policy that will address multiculturalism in general and not only for a specific ethnicity.
In summary, this final project outlines the issues with multiculturality and how they affect the community of the African-American students at Seventy Five High School. The problem is that a high proportion of the African-American students are in special education classes, and the administration needs to take action to determine why this problem exists and the potential ways of resolving it. As the literature suggests, the modern education system in the United States is built on the Eurocentric values that do not consider the values and behavioral specifics of the African-American community. As a result, the system and the educators who do not receive training in cultural competence may not recognize the subconscious biases they have towards African-Americans and how these biases burden the learners. The action plan offers the school to actively encourage the student community to share information about their culture and communicate with teachers in a way that allows others to grasp the cultures. Additionally, the staff’s diversity must be improved, and the HR policies have to be adjusted to ensure that the school hires professionals of different backgrounds and ethnicities.
EdGlossary. (n.d.). Multicultural education. Web.
Banks, J. & Banks, C. (2019). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (10th ed.). Wiley.
Liou, D. D., & Rotheram-Fuller, E. (2019). Where is the real reform? African American students and their school’s expectations for academic performance. Urban Education, 54(3), 397–429.
Railevna, B. (2017). Multiculturalism in education: Barriers of communicative creativity in the case of nonresident and foreign students in group training tasks solving. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 237, 299-304.