Understanding Disproportionality Part 4: TAC-D’s Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) Framework and Equity Teams

Written by Jaspreet Kaur

This is the final installment of our 4-part blog series on disproportionality.  We encourage you to view our previous posts on disproportionality so you can get a full picture of what it is and what the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality (TAC-D) at NYU Metro Center is doing to eliminate it.

Culturally Responsive Education Series

At TAC-D, we follow our Root Cause Analysis with a Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) series based on Critical Race Theory 1 and the Eight Principles of Culturally Responsive Education2. The principles include communicating higher expectations, active teaching methods, practitioners as facilitators, the inclusion of the culturally and linguistically diverse, student cultural sensitivity, reshaping the curriculum or delivery of services, student-controlled discourse, small group instruction.

An amalgamation of theory along with practice facilitates a critical analysis of the deep-rooted biases existing in the education system through beliefs, policies, and practices (BPPs). The CRE series helps to shift deficit thinking mindsets, specifically focusing on how race, identity, power, and privilege create educational barriers that have historically created inequities for marginalized children and families. The CRE series supports the development of educators so that they can use race and culture to improve educational outcomes. 3 The CRE series also supports participants’ engagement in the process of self-transformation in order to ensure equitable outcomes for all. 4

Educational equity is the principle of altering current practices and perspectives to teach for social
transformation and to promote equitable learning outcomes for students for all social groups.
SOURCE: (Lee, 2002)

Policies that use a color-blind approach or in other words do not consider social identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender) as central to shifting procedures and practices impede a school district’s ability to target gaps and create equity.

The CRE series addresses the core tensions faced by all individuals addressing educational inequities at the personal, structural and strategic levels .The five days of training aim to build on 6 core concepts: culture, race/identity, power/privilege, vulnerability, microaggressions, and stereotype threat. The sessions are conducted through large and small group facilitation, critical readings, and experiential activities.  The following is the breakdown of the strands along with the key curriculum questions.

Session 1:  Principles of Culturally Responsive Education: What is Culture and what Relevance does it play in Schools Aiming for Equity?

“Any attempt to generate ‘tricks of the trade’ must be avoided because of the complexity of the issue and because of the individual needs, motivations, experiences, and abilities of children of color.” Irvine, J.J., & Armento, B. J. (2001).

The session aims to support practitioners in developing a common language around cultural responsiveness and discuss steps to embed CRE practices in the schools. The training centers around addressing the students and the families who are negatively impacted by the educational system. The training centralizes the importance of developing a nuanced critical self-reflection on how identity, power, and privilege are central in developing an equity-lens to address systemic inequitable outcomes.  The overall focus is on how relationships and expectations impact outcomes and what connections educators develop with the students and the ways in which the instructional practices are delivered. The session further explores the intersection of race, class, and culture with equity, access, opportunity and fairness. This framework is called the “Cultural Continuum” and consists of the following components:

  • Surface includes visible things like food, fashion, festival, traditions etc.
  • Transitional A few multicultural units of study are in the curriculum
  • Integrated Multicultural units are integrated into the curriculum
  • Social Change Multicultural units are used as part of a social justice curriculum

The session offers educators six school-based practices involving school CRE walkthroughs including the adoption of school district and classroom’s data systems; classroom visits and implementation of CRE teaching strategies; curriculum unit review/book inventory review; reframing problem-solving teams/intervention audits; reviewing family and engagement plans; and the creation of CRE Turnkey teams.

Session 2: What do we need to know About Ourselves In Relation to Identity and Power in Order to Better Understand our Students and Families in ways that Enhance Teaching and Learning?

This part explores how participants’ have to come to understand what race means to them and develop professional competency in discussing race.  The discussion around the racial identity development models facilitates the identification and explanation of patterns influenced by privilege. Further, educators develop an understanding of social identity labels and the implications these identity labels hold for the treatment of specific social identity groups. The session aims to centralize how educators who identify their power and privilege become critical to shifting individual and systemic inequalities in schools.

Session 3: How Does Racial and/or Ethnic Identity Impact Racially and Ethnically Diverse Students?

In this session, participants explore where they are in their racial identity development and how this impacts their degree of accepting and practicing cultural responsiveness.  Further, it begins to examine how racial identity development is simultaneously developing for students and the ways schools play a role in supporting or impeding a the development of a healthy identity.  Educators reflect on their own cultural biases and further examine how they have come to develop their own social identities. The process is supported by sharing racial and ethnic identity and oppositional identity models. To that end, educators increase their level of awareness around how their social identity positions them in terms of power and privilege and recognize the broader socio-economic and political context which allows them to begin to form effective “culturally appropriate” strategies and build caring classroom communities.  

A Model of Non-White Racial Identity Development (Cross, 1995)

Above is a racial identity development model for a non-white student. It is not linear in nature and is based on  external experiences faced by an individual and the respective internalization of those experiences.

Session 4 and Session 5: What Policies and Practices will be Changed, Given Our New Perspective?

These sessions aim to delve deeper into how contextual socio-environmental cues create vulnerability for students. In this session microaggression, stereotype threat, and risk and protective factors are central when considering the role that schools have in creating affirming and validating environments that mitigate vulnerability. The recognition of vulnerable population groups along with a culturally responsive lens leads to the development of long term sustainable connections between the educators and the “at-risk” students. This is successfully achieved by addressing the three tensions at personal, structural and strategic levels and redesigning the practices, curriculum, lesson plans, and other instructional policies. These sessions also focus on developing competency around using the TAC-D’s CRE Toolkit.

Equity Teams

Finally, TAC-D works with school districts in developing an action plan for the establishment of data-driven “Guardians of Equity” teams, at both the district and school levels. Educators work together in small groups to create a data-driven culture that transforms policies and practices related to instruction and organizational structures that perpetuate inequities. Problem-solving teams work together in groups with an aim to convert various existing BPPs around instruction, discipline and/or organizational structures into more equitable and sustainable procedures and practices. Additionally,  the Guardian of Equity teams adapt and implement equity-based systems across the board by re-designing the curriculum to make it more culturally inclusive and developing relevant policy changes. These teams monitor the data on a regular basis in order to provide specific policy interventions in a timely manner and monitor the effectiveness of their procedures and practices.

Building Capacity for Culturally Responsive Systems

Capacity building at various levels is a crucial component of the entire CRE Process. TAC-D uses a multi-tiered system of capacity building that  focuses on various entry points including classrooms, equity teams, schools, district. Tiered support includes coaching of smaller and larger groups as a whole. The human capital involved in this capacity building process includes classroom teachers, support staff, school leaders, and district leaders. Through this comprehensive model, mindsets and practices shift to achieve desirable student outcomes.

The work is important to disrupt, dismantle and eliminate disproportionality that continues to plague our classrooms, which are otherwise places of learning, growth, and development for all children, including children of color.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

1 Ladson-Billings, G. & Tate, W. (1995). Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education. Teachers College Record 97, pp. 47-68.
2 Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
3Howard, T. C. (2010). Why race and culture matter in schools: Closing the achievement gap in America’s classrooms. New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press.
4Banks, J.A. (2007). Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society (2nd Ed.). New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press.

Jaspreet Kaur is a Senior Research Associate at the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality (TAC-D). As an experienced educator, analyst, and program manager, she works to support districts’ understanding of data and enhance system efficiency through customized tools and models.