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Are Teachers Prepared for Racially Changing Schools?

Authors: Erica Frankenberg, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Date Published: January 01, 2008

Honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., this new study, part of the Initiative on School Integration, recently created by the CRP/PDC after the Supreme Court’s June 2007 decisions limited voluntary integration in our nation's schools. This report reveals the challenges for teachers and school leaders as they face many different kinds of situations with regard to race, ethnicity and class.
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Four decades after Dr. Martin Luther King's death we are a different county, where the white population will become a minority of students in the nation's schools in short order, but where schools remain separate and deeply unequal for African American, Latino and American Indian students. We need to remember Dr. King’s conclusion that “segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.  It gives the segregated a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”  It ignores the reality, he said, that Americans “are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” 

Even though there is no significant national effort to desegregate our schools now (though many communities want to maintain the integrated schools they still have), thousands of American schools, mostly in the suburbs, are going through racial and ethnic change as black and Latino families move out from central cities.  Our overwhelmingly white teaching force has little preparation to deal with demographic changes now under way or training to teach their students about the contributions and cultures of other groups in the society.  We are a country where nearly a fifth of public school students come from linguistic minority families but that has far too few teachers who understand their language and culture and who can speak to their parents.  

 Several decades ago, when there were much greater efforts to desegregate schools, there were also initiatives to prepare teachers with tools to minimize problems of conflict, to combat in- school segregation, and to contest stereotypes and maximize learning opportunities in diverse classrooms and schools.  Research showed that these investments in training teachers worked, but when the period of active desegregation efforts passed these efforts were largely abandoned.  Teachers in diverse and nonwhite schools report more training in how to teach in diverse settings than those in white suburbs but they often face testing pressures that mean that they do not have time to employ those skills or impart that knowledge. 

Most teachers believe that they can just treat all students the same and everything will work out. This is related to the fact that many teachers come from segregated white backgrounds where they have not been trained to understand and deal with other cultures effectively. Treating everyone the same translates into simply assuming that all children will understand and respond to the methods and approaches that their teachers are familiar with, an assumption not supported by research and experience.  

In compliance with the UC Open Access Policy, this report has been made available on eScholarship:

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