This week’s sobering news that the SAT scores of U.S. students are dropping probably did not surprise anyone who has worked as a teacher in recent years. If my classroom experience has revealed anything to me, it is that the education system in this country is in serious trouble–and that students are not getting the type of education they deserve and need.
It’s not for lack of effort or commitment on the part of educators. The vast majority of teachers put in long hours, exhaustive work and much personal investment into creating lesson plans, working with students, dealing with parents and grading papers. But they are often fighting confusing school policies, lack of resources, problems the students carry from outside school and pressure to focus on standardized tests.
Those issues are amplified when it comes to teaching the growing population of Latino students who are just learning English, have just arrived in the country, serve as the translators for immigrant parents or who face hostility because of their national origin.
My questions for education reporters: Are your school districts preparing teachers for that student population? Are there professional development courses geared toward the best practices for teaching in multicultural classrooms? Are the schools looking at textbook purchases with an eye for diversity? For example, do history textbooks in a predominantly Latino district cover the history of Latinos in the country and in Latin America? Are those topics covered in the class curriculum?
I’m currently taking a graduate course examining issues and trends in literacy education. Among the best practices noted for improving reading comprehension are the importance of “authentic reading”–reading that applies directly to the lives of students- and the application of “prior knowledge”–making sure students have a foundation in which to make connections to newly taught material.
But take a look at some of the suggested reading in a curriculum map put together by Common Core, which creates maps based on the Common Core State Standards. In one 8th grade Language Arts unit called “Looking Back on America,” the list includes works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Maya Angelou, John Adams, Langston Hughes and numerous readings about the women’s suffrage movement. It is certainly filled with worthy and educational reading, but noticeably scarce are works by Latino authors or about Latino history.
The suggested readings for a ninth grade unit about Literary Nonfiction also includes a diverse group of authors, including Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf, Abraham Lincoln, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King, Jr., but no Latino authors.
Is this happening in your district? If so, what effect is that having on student learning?