Instead of the “color blind” approach to instruction where students’ race or ethnic background is overlooked in the interests of equality, it is wise for teachers to be “color aware” in designing their classroom climate and curriculum. Although students are individuals, they are also products of their environments—no one grows up in a vacuum. A multicultural society is best served by a culturally responsive curriculum. Schools that acknowledge the diversity of their student population use this model as an effective tool for school unification, as well as to promote cultural understanding.
As a result, a culturally responsive curriculum is both inclusive in that it ensures that all students are included within all aspects of the school and particularistic in that it acknowledges and respects the unique differences students may possess. A culturally responsive curriculum also encourages teachers’ understanding and recognition of each student’s non-school cultural life and background, and provides a means for them to incorporate this information into the curriculum, thus promoting inclusion.
Schools have the responsibility to teach all students how to synthesize cultural differences into their knowledge base, in order to facilitate students’ personal and professional success in a diverse world. A culturally responsive curriculum helps students from a minority ethnic/racial background develop a sense of identity as individuals, as well as proudly identify with their particular culture group. Schools with a culturally responsive curriculum strive to develop a balanced understanding of history—a perspective that reflects both the positive and negative experiences of all of America’s ancestors. It is also important for teachers of “mono-cultural” classrooms to integrate multicultural learning experiences into the curriculum. Multicultural learning experiences tend to build a tolerant, accepting and non-discriminatory classroom environment. It fosters empathy and appreciation for other cultures, and prevents prejudices built upon ignorance and lack of exposure.
According to education icon, Gloria Ladson-Billing, students in mono-cultural learning environments should also be exposed to the history and perspectives of diverse populations. Such learning experiences expands their understanding of individuals they will likely encounter in a diverse adult world.
Teachers and school administrators have to realize that in order for reform to pay dividends, it must be fully embraced by the local district and community. One of the biggest impediments to school reform is the failure to create an environment that nurtures and sustains school improvement. Districts must show fidelity to school reform as if it were a symbiotic relationship. Effecting change in the behavior of teachers and administrators, while necessary, is inadequate.
All stakeholders have to be fully committed to making school reform a community effort. Not all community members have to agree with proposed or recently implemented reforms, but they have to be reasonable and adult enough to agree that something needs to change to improve education in the community. In the case of districts where students are struggling, most detractors change their minds once they realize that conflict will not be beneficial to student learning. Ultimately, no one in the community wants to see American children fail.
Schools will change only if the vision of school reform and improvement is alluring enough to entice the buy in of the majority of teachers and other staff. They have to recognize that success is possible. Schools needing effective change must have leaders who can motivate and inspire the teachers to implement instructional school reforms with confidence and diligence. The result will be a cadre of educators diligently working to reach their potential, and in turn fostering the academic achievement of their students. Educators should not have to be bribed into working harder in order to facilitate reforms that benefit students; rather, if educators are enticed by a provocative reform plan and a strong and knowledgeable reform leader, they should become passionate enough to successfully implement the reform
Whenever educational reform is attempted, the community should be educated concerning the problems facing the school district and the solutions proposed by school leaders to ameliorate them. When a community is kept in the loop and made an integral part of the reform process, community members begin to take ownership. A cadre of committed community members can provide important input into the needs and desires of the community. All communities have needs for enhancements, and whenever possible, schools should help students improve the community in which they live.
Most civic-minded citizens know they have the right to participate in the educational process, and they will do everything legally and politically to exercise their rights. Without a school-community partnership, it will be difficult or impossible for genuine school reform to take place. In some respects, community members are the investors and stockholders of schools. After all, the community’s tax dollars pay the teachers, administrators, and staff’s salary.
The debate on how best to educate ELL students continues, with little promise of a clear-cut way to proceed emerging anytime soon. At the same time, the diversity of languages of spoken in U.S. schools continues to expand. Languages include Spanish, Hmong, Urdu, Russian, Chinese, Polish, Korean, Tagalog, Swahili and more. Achieving the goal for all students to obtain a satisfactory level of learning is often compromised by the cultural, social, and language differences among various groups. The inability to come to grips with how to best approach the learning needs of ELL student’s, places them at greater risk of falling behind.
The original enthusiasm for bilingual programs has diminished, as these programs are now criticized as being ineffective. Support for the immersion model has declined, as initial supporters now believe ELL students simply aren’t learning English quickly and thoroughly enough. They now suggest that the immersion program does not facilitate the ELL students' ability to cope with the American culture, not just in school, but also beyond school boundaries. The slower learning curve experienced by ELL students in immersion programs may plague them for the rest of their lives.
This belief is based on research that suggests Hispanics who were in school from the 1970s through the 1990s, and who were in bilingual programs earned less money on average than Hispanic students educated during the same period in an English-only setting. Hispanic high school dropouts which were in English-only classrooms are also fewer in number and more likely to return to school later. Immersion makes it difficult for the teacher to provide support for all students’ needs. In the case of a complex assignment such as a research paper, language and usage are challenging even for fluent students. The further complication of using a second language puts ELL students at a serious disadvantage, without special support. The immersion method of teaching is yet to establish itself as an effective program for minority students.
Supporters of the transitional and developmental models insist that students taught at least some of their core academics in their native language can better keep pace with their English-speaking peers. According to research studies, transitional instruction in both the native language and English actually helps students learn English more quickly and effectively. In this way, students become more literate in their native language, which in turn improves their ability to learn English.
An issue that complicates the education of the ELL learners is the lack of training among teachers and the apparent lack of urgency on the part of the states to ensure highly qualified ELL teachers. Further, most states do not have incentives for teachers to pursue a license or endorsement in ELL instruction. Regardless of the model chosen, qualified teachers will be needed to ensure quality programs.
In many states, to include California, Arizona and Massachusetts, the immersion model is winning out. In 1998, California legislators passed Proposition 227, which required that ELL students be taught in specialized immersion programs for one year before they are transferred to regular classes. Critics propose this policy is problematic because students who exit one year of immersion instruction may not be at grade level academically, nor proficient enough in English to continue work in a regular classroom.
While standardized test scores for both English speaking and ELL students have improved in California, the improvement among ELL students has not been as significant. It appears ELL students are still losing ground. Despite the conflict and uncertainty about how to best educate ELL students, there are some schools that have bilingual programs and are proud of them. Queens, New York offers a bilingual program in Mandarin for K-5, simply because 87 percent of the students are Chinese ELL students and the English-speaking students expressed a desire to learn Mandarin.
There appears to be a lack of federal support for bilingual education. While the No Child Left Behind legislation provides states with funding for the education of non-English speaking students, there is no explicit support for bilingual education. In fact, there are no funds for bilingual program development, nor are there requirements for evaluation of existing bilingual programs. States have leeway in terms of how they approach the education of non-English speaking students.
It is clear that the federal government’s position is one of supporting English acquisition instead of bilingual education of students. This is evident by the change in the name of the Office of Bilingual Education to the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient. The director of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs is now called the Director of English Language Acquisition.
The implementation of bilingual programs has not been without hidden political agendas. The previously mentioned Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was the result of a desire to sway Hispanic votes in Texas. Unfortunately, the political impetus often changes and with it so can legislation. Provisions in NCLB replaced funds that were more widely available for a number of bilingual education initiatives. Language and culture are directly linked. Requiring students to surrender their language without offering cultural studies to them in school is tantamount to asking them to ignore their own roots. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans feel that bilingual education is crucial in order to retain their culture.
The English-only movement however is once again sweeping the nation and supporters feel that the English language is the glue that holds together the American culture. Supporters of the bilingual education movement feel that an English-only education will turn back the clock and bring about a surge of intolerance against non or limited English speakers. Dissenters such as Humberto Garza commented on the absurdity of city employees in Los Altos, California speaking only English in an area dominated by Spanish-speaking Mexican Americans who have lived in the area since it was part of the Republic of Mexico. It is clear that linguistic diversity pose challenges for schools and indeed society at large. This longstanding and historical dilemma will likely continue in the foreseeable future as the number of non-English speakers continues to grow.
A recent poll from McClatchy/Marist shows a loss of confidence in President Barack Obama among the general electorate. According to the September 20, 2011 poll, Obama’s approval rating is at 39% among registered voters nationally, an all-time low for him. For the first time in his presidency, a majority — 52% — disapproves of his job performance, and 9% are undecided.
Polls are snapshot representations of a small group of people. With some proper rules and solid theoretical reasoning, they can yield crude, yet occasionally effective attempts at understanding the general population. Polls are fickle – that is, indecisive. Similar to the people they represent, most polls cannot tell us the whole truth, and the reality they seek to model may change quickly and dramatically.
Some might find that a variety of recent polls show that President Obama’s chances in the coming 2012 Presidential election are in serious jeopardy. However, polls and press like this don’t faze me much at all. I find that when we stop to consider the facts, whether you like it or not, President Obama will almost certainly win the 2012 election.
Unlike liberal pundits, who claim that Obama is sure to win based on a largely subjective election formula, I reached the same conclusion using more conventional, hopefully objective material. Here are some of the major reasons why.
First is the fact that Obama’s financial base remains strong. Obama’s electoral coffers are almost certainly going to be much larger than those of the Republican candidate.
Secondly, the Republican Party has internal divisions. This has proven to be a partial deal-breaker for the Republican Party in the past (George H. W. Bush, among others). Obviously this isn’t the only challenge for Republicans, but the fact remains that party divisions can lead to political disaster.
Third, it will be particularly important that the Republican presidential candidate is sufficiently skilled at unifying, rallying, and leading party supporters, while being charismatic and persuasive enough to keep expanding the Republican base. They must do this while going toe-to-toe with a fully-activated, campaign-charged Obama: a tall order for the current candidate lineup.
Fourth, among blacks, latinos and other ethnic minorities, Obama is still the candidate of choice by far. The voting strength of these groups remains significant, and Republican candidates still have difficulty appealing to them without alienating their base.
Fifth, for the past few years, Republicans have lost some of their political clout and public image by being staunchly ideological and politically unresponsive in the face of important national debates and crises. I’m thinking of the healthcare and debt ceiling debates in particular. These issues revealed a startling sort of stubbornness among the Republican caucus, as well as growing ideological polarization among the American electorate.
As we know, the general population tends to be fairly evenly split between Democratic and Republican supporters at election time. Some see this phenomenon as an American political trademark: we prefer divided government because it facilitates compromise.
While President Obama has been fairly bipartisan – seeking to compromise and broker deals between the Republicans and Democrats – the Republican caucus has shown a major lack of this characteristic “American” political flair.
Finally, as political scientists will tell you, barring political incompetence, incumbents tend to win. Those who hold an office are more likely to keep it, for a variety of good (and bad) reasons.
Obama’s opponents regularly compare his approval ratings (Oh, here come the polls again) to that of previous presidents, and state that they’re dangerously close to a number of one-term presidents like Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. The problem here is that present approval ratings have very little bearing on future voting percentages. You don’t have to approve of a medicine to know you’d be better off taking it.
The biggest challenges to Obama’s 2012 bid will be shaping a positive image of his handling of the economy, motivating a disparate and disillusioned Democratic Party base, and building another top-notch political campaign that will motivate the American public and win over independent voters. The presidential election is around 13 months away: more than enough time to energize the Democratic base and launch a strong campaign.
Obama’s task will not be an easy one. He has a lot of work ahead of him, and some stiff opposition; but as I see it, his success in the 2012 election is largely secure.
Barack Obama hasn't been able to catch much of a break recently. The political landscape has devolved even further into high school-style cliques and infighting to the extent that there isn’t much else going on of substance in Washington. Obama’s hair may be going gray faster than expected, but he keeps a smile on his face and sticks to his message.
Criticism lately has come not just from the right, but from Obama’s own party and from prominent African Americans. With frustrations high and solutions still a bit unclear, we should expect the pressure to become intensified in the coming months. However, it is crystal clear to me that there are unrealistic expectations of the president.
Cornel West and Tavis Smiley conclude that Barack Obama is afraid of the black community in this country. In the case of Dr. West, this has been an issue since Obama's the 2008 election when he criticized the senator from Illinois for being resistant to speak on black issues. More recently, West has called the president a "black mascot of Wall Street and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats."
Speaking about his colleague Tavis Smiley, West said, "Obama won’t touch him with a 10-foot pole." Smiley agrees, complaining that the president has not visited any of his TV or radio programs since he took office. Though, this begs the question of why Tavis Smiley believes the president owes it to him to appear on his shows. It doesn’t appear to be a problem, unless you happen to be Tavis Smiley.
"I think too often he compromises, too often he capitulates. I think the Republicans know that," Smiley says, adding, "I think they laugh when he’s not around."
But what choice does Obama really have? To not compromise would be to blatantly ignore the voices of many in a country divided without a clear majority on almost every issue. When it comes to the absurd scenario that was the debt ceiling crisis, to not compromise would have been to punish the entire nation, which Tea Party Republicans seemed happy to do. There is no doubt that Obama would have been blamed for the fallout.
The Tea Party continues to add fuel to the fire in Washington, but it’s hard to see the message in the mayhem when the organization’s vitriol is so determinedly hateful. Of course it is necessary to speak to issues on which they disagree with the president, but the way that energy is channeled into anger has long had obviously dangerous consequences, which Tea Party leaders don’t appear to mind.
For every sign held up at a Tea Party rally that mentions unemployment, there is another calling Barack Obama a Muslim terrorist who has infiltrated the White House. For every sign that raises the issue of government spending, there is another demanding Obama be sent back to Kenya. These rallies are often overrun by blatant hate speech, and while one can’t always hold leaders directly responsible for what their supporters believe, the Tea Party does much more to encourage than dissuade it.
The people the president has to work with these days may be angry and radical, but he still does have to work with them. President Obama remains willing to compromise, he continues to keep a smile on his face, and he sticks to his message. When even this is seen as a weakness, what exactly is a man to do?
Rep. Maxine Waters recently told the Tea Party to "go straight to hell!" An ineloquent remark at best, which can only work against her and other Democrats. It’s clear that there is a great deal of frustration on both sides of the floor in Congress, and Rep. Waters isn’t afraid to fire back from the left with the same venom. Even she, though, in spite of their common ground, has tough words for president Obama. "What we want to do, is we want to give the president every opportunity to show what he can do and what he's prepared to lead on, but our people are hurt, unemployment is unconscionable, we don't know what the strategy is."
A lot of people seem to think they own Barack Obama right now, and when they don’t get the reaction they want from pulling his strings they call him a puppet to somebody else. The president has a whole lot of work to do and a great many needs to tend to, but the impression across the board is that people believe the president should work for them and them alone.
Obama keeps a smile on his face and sticks to his message. "The vision that brought us together in 2008 is undiminished in me."
Recently I viewed the documentary, Waiting for Superman, for the umpteenth time, and I noted that almost a year after the film’s September 24, 2010 U. S. première, the American educational system is still not living up to its potential. Sure, education reform was the phrase on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but after a year, most of the fervor and commitment to educational change that was initially exhibited has all but subsided.
The comparisons with other developed countries show that the strongest nation in the world is still falling behind academically. The cost per pupil in the U.S. has soared to five times the level in the 1950s, after adjusting for inflation. With this kind of money being pumped into the system, why are many our school systems of such a low caliber, and further falling behind?
Statistics and common sense born of observation tell us that the biggest crisis in our schools is finding ways to educate students in low-income areas. However, as Waiting for Superman illustrates, our educational problems are not limited to poverty-stricken areas alone. As Lesley Chilcott, producer of the Waiting for Superman put it, “the dirty little secret… is that middle- and upper-class communities are suffering as well. When we talk about U.S. students ranking twenty-fifth in math, we’re not just talking about underserved communities, we’re talking overall.” Yet, despite decades of knowing that these problems exist, little improvements are being made to the system itself. Of course, everyone seemingly wants to improve America’s education system; they just do not seem to know or agree on how to do it.
The American public must believe that educational reform is a top priority issue in these times of severe economic troubles. It is understandable that, in today’s economy, people are primarily concerned about their jobs and putting food on the table. Upgrading education, although important to most, can hold a low priority in the mind of the average American, who is mostly concerned with keeping a roof over their heads. The paradox here is that this is precisely the time to make that investment into education. When times are tough in an economy such as ours, workers need to improve their skills to compete effectively in the local (and global) marketplace. The education system is where people turn to acquire these skills.
Furthermore, enhanced skills and technological talents are going to be desperately needed in the future, as America continues to struggle towards sustaining a dynamic 21st century labor force. Production is not getting easier and simpler – in fact, it is just the opposite. Along the same lines, workers down the road will need to be able to adapt to technologies that are just now being developed. If American students and workers find themselves in an educational system that cannot fulfill these necessary, required functions because it is sub-par, not only will these individuals and their families find little success in an economy that has left them behind; it will cripple America’s competitiveness.
Waiting for Superman has been criticized as being against teacher’s unions, placing the blame too squarely on the shoulders of educators, and misrepresenting educational statistics. Nevertheless, the film shined a bright spotlight on the harsh reality of our educational system, showing the exodus of middle and upper class children from our public schools; the sadness of the lottery system; and the general hopelessness that some express about our educational system and its future.
One segment of Waiting for Superman illustrates American self-confidence through an image of kids doing daredevil bike stunts, and then crashing. This scene shows, in a metaphorical sense, that while our students seem to have confidence, many do not have the skills to actually succeed.
A year later, Waiting for Superman still serves as a stark reminder of just how bad our educational system has become, and just how ineffective most of our efforts at improving it have been. The American educational system has reached a turning point, a time when things seem at their most dire, and yet many appear to simply sit idly by “Waiting for Superman.”
America needs to view this film as a public call to action, where each of us is summoned to be a Superman (or Superwoman, as the case may be), or at least to lend a hand in saving our educational system, perhaps without the flashy heroics and cape. Rather than waiting, we should strive towards getting every educator, educational leader, government official, parent, and citizen to educate themselves about the problems that exist in our educational system, and to work together to fix them.
What is most important is that we understand the deficiencies in our educational system, and strictly forbid placing blame – which rarely serves to encourage cooperation. Rather, we must demonstrate accountability for our situation and fulfill our responsibility to our children. Collectively, we must come together with an understanding that “Superman” is not coming to save our children, and it is up to us to work together to find innovative ways to rise to the challenge of fixing our educational system.
The future must be planned for; now. It certainly will not be an overnight process. However, by taking positive, productive steps, one at a time, an enormous amount of ground can be covered in the coming years. If we simply work together, we can restore the U.S. educational system to its former preeminence, and give our children the bright futures they deserve in our great country and aboard. We must become the Super-citizens that we have been waiting for.