Interaction with learners

Are these ELA programs culturally appropriate? (And who decides, anyway?)

In the past two years, attempts to limit the ways teachers can discuss race, sex and gender in the classroom have swept through state legislatures. and school council meetings Across the country.

But a new analysis of elementary school curricula suggests that some of the most popular teaching materials often overlook these topics, and those that include them may actually reinforce harmful stereotypes.

New analysis of three of the most widely used English and language arts curricula challenges the notion that discussion of these topics is prevalent in schools. Many teachers use series like these as the backbone of their teaching.

The reportpublished this week by the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University’s Steinhardt School, examines examples of 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade English/Language Arts courses from series broadcast by three major program companies: McGraw Hill’s Wonders, Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt’s Into Reading and Savvas’ myView.

The team of researchers and reviewers concluded that the documents present one-sided narratives, use dehumanizing language to refer to people of color, and fail to incorporate meaningful cultural diversity.

The analysis highlights the complicated space that major publishers occupy in today’s policy debates about program content.

Proponents, including many teachers, have long criticized the lack of deep and multifaceted representation in popular educational materials. Some educators said the resources provided by their schools often overrepresented books by white authors, perpetuated harmful racial stereotypes, or only discussed people of color in relation to oppression and suffering.

Many teachers have called for materials that incorporate students’ cultural identities and lived experiences in the classroom as tools for effective teaching.. And in recent years, companies have pledged to make changes.

But at the same time, a movement to restrict how teachers can discuss race and gender issues has gained momentum. Seventeen states have passed laws or taken other measures it would limit what teachers can say about these topics in the classroom, leading some companies to consider canceling reviews designed to make their programs more culturally appropriate.

Teachers who wish to address race in a meaningful way should already complete most published teaching resources. Now those laws make it a lot harder, said Boluwasefe Adelugba, a 12th grader at DeKalb County Schools in Georgia who has done youth advocacy work with the NYU Metro Center.

Few curriculum reviews assess cultural responsiveness

In statements to Education Week, some companies disputed the report’s findings.

NYU Metro Center’s assessment was limited to a small selection of the texts of McGraw Hill’s Wonders and only to the materials in the print edition. “Basing the full report evaluation of an entire program on such a small subset of text paints a misleading and incomplete picture,” said Tyler Reed, senior communications manager at McGraw Hill.

He shared with Education Week examples of advice for teachers on culturally appropriate teaching and a lesson on the US Constitution that asks students to “identify oversights” in the original document and “explore the means by which a government can be more representative of a diverse population”. Reed also noted that the report incorrectly attributes an example of the Savvas Teacher’s Guide material to McGraw Hill.

Savvas said he “strongly refutes[d]” the conclusions presented in the executive summary. “myView offers a diverse collection of content and literary selections that offers a balanced representation of cultures, genders and ethnicities, and invites students to see themselves represented in the texts they read,” he said in a statement.

Houghton-Mifflin-Harcout said the company is “committed to culturally affirming practices in everything we do” and appreciates “the need for ongoing feedback and welcome[d] ongoing conversation with educators and community.

The fact that reviewers say these materials are not culturally appropriate while companies insist that they are raises the many questions that make program reviews so subjective: Who decides whether the materials are adequate? What criteria should they use? How much of each program should they taste? How much training do they receive?

External reviews of curricula have become commonplace over the past decade, but few large-scale projects assess criteria related to cultural responsiveness.

Although some educational organizations and research centers have designed other tools to assess material against these markers, schools or teachers usually have to do the assessment work themselves. There are no centralized repositories of exams that educators can consult when making decisions about the curriculum.

And even among these tools, the criteria – for what constitutes diverse representation, or what part of a curriculum reviewers should assess – vary. The NYU Metro Center team evaluated a small sample of each program’s total material.

“We are a small team with a small budget,” Megan Hester, director of the Metro Center’s Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative, said in a statement. “And in working with schools and districts over the past four years to evaluate dozens and dozens of program samples, we (along with schools and districts) have found that sample evaluation gives a good idea of ​​the program’s approach, strengths, patterns and shortcomings—even if we don’t look at every text and every lesson.

To conduct their assessments, the researchers used a tool called the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Dashboard.. The rubric, developed at NYU, provides a framework for grading curricula on diversity of representation and commitment to social justice—addressing global issues and exploring inequalities. Several districts have used the dashboard as part of their program adoption process, including Denverand he informed the development of the Rhode Island State Curriculum Assessment Tool.

Materials show ‘shallow’ diversity and degrading language, researchers say

Researchers assembled review teams of students, parents, families, and educators and trained them in using the rubric.

Other organizations that do curriculum reviews rely on educators. But including students in the process can offer valuable insights, said Angela M. Ward, founder and CEO of 2Ward Equity Consulting and former supervisor of race and equity programs in the Austin Independent School District. (Ward was not involved in the NYU study.)

“You want to include the people closest to the problem you’re trying to solve if you really want to be culturally sensitive,” she said. “Who is more expert than the children who will be impacted by the program you put in the schools?”

Reviewers evaluated samples of three different elementary school English and language arts curricula: together, these programs represent a significant share of the market, according to recent analyses..

Reviewers rated most sections of the material as “culturally destructive,” meaning the program “reinforces stereotypes and portrays people of color in inferior and destructive ways.”

In general, the programs include what the authors of the report call “superficial” diversity. The documents feature people with a variety of skin and hair tones, people with visible disabilities, or people wearing different types of clothing. But not much attention was paid to how the characters’ different experiences would influence their lives, said Flor Khan, the project’s lead researcher.

When people of color were the focus of a lesson, their stories were usually about historical struggle or oppression, critics have found. “When you talk about black people, it starts with slavery and it ends with segregation,” said Adelugba, who was not a reviewer of the report but said her findings reflected her experience in K-schools. 12.

And often key context was missing, said Hannah Cluroe, a recent graduate of the Chandler School District in Arizona and a member of the review team.

She gave an example of a story about Japanese incarceration camps during World War II. The story was about a Japanese family upset about having to move house. “It just said it happened, not telling the students why it happened,” Cluroe said.

The review also highlighted examples in the various language programs that they felt degraded or “impaired” people of color and Indigenous peoples, such as describing Native Americans as “submissive” and “suspicious” in their interactions. with European colonizers, or calling Native Americans “unusual” American characteristics.

Reviewers also noted differences in how the voices and experiences of different groups of people were represented. A student critic explained how a 5th grade passage on Revolutionary War battles made students identify with George Washington’s troops.
Critics compared this to the description of the Three-Fifths Compromise in the Same Unit, which used plain language to discuss the debate over the clause in the Constitution that would count slaves as three-fifths of a person to determine the population at purposes of electoral representation.

The report’s authors recommend that editors include “comprehensive and complex characters from marginalized groups,” provide multiple and varied perspectives, and offer sample questions that can help teachers connect students’ experiences to the material.