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When good intentions are not enough: A response to increasing diversity in an early childhood setting.

Abstract. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore and describe the process of adaptation to a recent increase in cultural and linguistic diversity in a school for grades K-2. Data were collected for eight weeks through interviews, observations, and documents. The informants were the principal, 18 classroom teachers, five specialist teachers, and one paraprofessional. All participants were Euro-American with the exception of the one paraprofessional. Eisner's five dimensions of educational settings were used as a framework for exploring and discussing the findings. The school has made some efforts to address cultural diversity; despite the good intentions of the teachers, however, the findings indicate that stated school goals and practices do not match. Implications for educational settings serving culturally and linguistically students are shared.


In the United States today, schools face significant demographic changes in their student populations as a result of increased enrollment of culturally and linguistically diverse (OLD) children. How school personnel respond to this trend is critical to the total well-being of those children. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore and describe the process of adaptation by Euro-American faculty and staff to an increase in cultural and linguistic diversity in the student population of a K-2 school.

To explore this question, the researchers used Eisner's (1991) five dimensions of educational settings (intentional, structural, curricular, pedagogical, and the evaluative) as a categorical framework for describing this school. Eisner surmises that to understand a school and its practices, all five dimensions must be examined.

The issue of responding to diversity is significant to both of the authors. The first author was raised in a diverse setting in Hong Kong, taught in an International School for 11 years, and teaches multicultural education courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels at a university in the southern United States. She had entry into the research site through contacts as a practicum supervisor and consultant. The second author has studied and published about teacher attitudes as they relate to issues of diversity, and she also teaches on diversity issues. They bring personal and scholarly experience to this research study.

Theoretical Perspectives

The question of how best to educate culturally and linguistically diverse students generates much debate in both the education and government arenas. This problem is not a new one; over the past three decades educators have made various attempts to find a solution. These efforts have been based on three major theoretical approaches, namely, "cultural specific," "effective principles," and "social critical" (Garcia, 1993, p. 56). According to these approaches, several interrelated factors involving the home, school, and the larger society are at the root of the lack of school success among culturally and linguistically diverse students.

The "cultural specific" approach claims that a clash between home and school language and culture is the primary cause of failure for minority children. This viewpoint is supported by a large amount of research (e.g., Delgado-Gaitan, 1992; Garcia, 1988; Sindell, 1988; Wiesner, Gallimore, & Jordan, 1988; Wong-Fillmore, 1991), and the implications are that educators must use information about the critical differences between home and school in planning an effective curriculum.

Supporters of the "effective principles" approach claim that if instruction is based on principles of effective teaching and learning, then culturally and linguistically diverse students will experience more academic success. This theory implies that teachers must learn and use what has been shown to work across cultures. Some of the effective strategies suggested are cooperative learning groups (Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989), direct instruction (Rosenshine, 1986), developmentally appropriate practice (Huffman & Speer, 2000), and tutoring (Bloom, 1984).

The "social critical" approach identifies oppression of minority and culturally/linguistically different groups as the cause of failure (Cummins, 1986; Freire, 1973; Pearl, 1991), which should be remedied by the use of empowering tactics, such as Banks's (1993) equity pedagogy. Other social factors, such as poverty, also contribute to educational failure (Laosa, 1983; Wilson, 1987). In addition, Ogbu (1987) suggests that it is majority-group members' attitudes towards "caste-like" minorities that underlie their lack of success. The low expectations of American majority-group members for minorities, both academically and economically, become self-fulfilling prophecies. Therefore, raising educators' academic expectations for culturally and linguistically diverse students is necessary (Levin, 1988; Snow, 1987).

The overall implications of these theories are that the teachers and administrators of U.S. schools have a great responsibility for the success or failure of minority students. Their beliefs, attitudes, and practices can set the stage for the future. Through a better understanding of how Euro-American early childhood educators perceive the needs of minority students, teacher educators can plan the most appropriate professional support and training for these teachers.

Research Perspectives

A number of research studies have addressed how preservice and/or inservice teachers think about and relate to culturally and linguistically diverse (OLD) students (see, for example, Byrnes, Kiger, & Manning, 1997; Davis &Whitener-Lepanto, 1994; Sia & Mosher, 1994; Sparapani, Abel, Easton, Edwards, & Herbster, 1995; Washington, 1982). Generally, these researchers express concern that both inservice and preservice teachers are not comfortable with cultural diversity and that these teachers need increased education about, and exposure to, diversity. Notably, most of these studies focus on preservice teachers and none are specific to primary/early childhood teachers.

Little is known about how established early childhood teachers actually address increasing diversity in their schools. These teachers are children's first contact with formal schooling, and so they have the potential to make a profound impact on how OLD children and their families perceive public schooling. Experienced teachers, as opposed to preservice teachers, also dictate the school climate in which novice teachers begin to work. The mentoring these teachers provide has a profound impact on new and preservice teachers, who are developing their skills and professional identities. A better understanding of how practicing teachers address increasing diversity is essential if schools are to better meet the needs of OLD students.

Multicultural Education Practices

Theoretical and empirical studies of multicultural education consistently show that to implement a successful multicultural education program, changes must be made to: 1) the curriculum; 2) the teaching materials used; 3) teaching styles and strategies; 4) the attitudes, perceptions, and practices of teachers and administrators; and 5) the culture and goals of the schools (Banks, 1992; Bennett, 1990; Sleeter & Grant, 1994). An effective multicultural education program is one in which the process of education is totally transformed for all students, regardless of their cultural backgrounds. In addition, all dimensions of an educational institution must change, including goals, organization and structure, staffing, curriculum, instruction, student evaluation, and parent involvement (Banks, 1994; Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Over the last two decades, preservice teachers (and many inservice teachers and administrators) have been exhorted to make such changes. Are these reforms becoming a reality in schools? This stud y examines one school undergoing a dramatic increase in the number of minority students, taking an in-depth look at how the school is addressing issues of diversity.

The Case Study


This case study explored a bounded system, a K-2 public school, that was adapting to an increasingly diverse school population. Purposive sampling, meaning that participants or cases are selected because the investigator believes that they exemplify the phenomenon (Patton, 1990), was used to select an information-rich case. In this case, the school was at an early stage of demographic change, and the teachers were beginning to confront the new realities this change engendered. The school selected for the case study is situated in a nonmetropolitan area in the intermountain western United States, which is undergoing demographic changes. Historically, the population of this area has been predominantly European American. More recently, there has been an influx of new residents to the region; many of these new residents are culturally and linguistically diverse families, particularly Latino. The district as a whole experienced a 44% increase in Latino students in the three years prior to this inquiry. Seven perce nt of the school's 449 K2 students are culturally and linguistically diverse.


Data were collected from 25 participants; these participants were the principal, five specialist teachers, one paraprofessional, and 18 classroom teachers. The ethnicity of all the teachers and the principal was Euro-American; the paraprofessional was Latina. The classroom teachers were all from the local area. In contrast, the five specialist teachers had all moved into the area from other parts of the United States. Two of these specialist teachers were married to members of culturally and linguistically diverse minority groups.

Data Collection Methods

During the eight-week inquiry from April through the end of May, the senior author spent approximately two to three days per week at the school collecting data and verifying information. Multiple sources of evidence were used, along with multiple measures. The process of data triangulation supplied corroborating evidence of phenomena. The data collection methods used were both semi-structured and unstructured interviews, direct observations, and document analysis (weekly newsletters and announcements to parents) (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). The principal researcher was an "observer participant" when collecting observational data in the classrooms and other teaching areas (Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996), and she also did all of the interviewing.

Each of the participants was interviewed at least once, and follow-up interviews were conducted with the kindergarten teacher (whose class was 16% CLD children), the two 1st-grade and two 2nd-grade "at risk" classroom teachers, and the two 1st-grade and two 2nd-grade "opportunity" classroom teachers. The children in the "at risk" classes are considered to be in need of more help, both academically and socially, and these classes get daily assistance from both a special education and a Title One teacher, as well as from a paraprofessional. These "at risk" classes have the highest percentage of CLD children (15% and 16% in the 1st grade, and 22% and 16% in the 2nd grade), with the least English proficiency. The children in the "opportunity" classes are considered to need less help; there are fewer CLD children, and a Title One paraprofessional works in the classroom for one hour each day. The regular classes had no CLD children, and were made up of the school's most advanced readers.

The initial interviews were semi-structured, lasting from one-half to one full hour each. All teachers were asked to: 1) describe the programs in their schools, 2) share how they addressed cultural and linguistic diversity in the classroom, 3) describe materials used with CLD students, and 4) characterize contacts with culturally diverse families.

Each interview was audiotaped and then transcribed into an interview protocol noting the time, place, and interviewee's name. The principal researcher encouraged the informants to elaborate on their responses. As the field work continued, more focused questions emerged from the data (Guba, 1990). These questions, centering on the specific concerns and teaching issues related to the teachers' particular teaching situation, were addressed in follow-up interviews that were more unstructured and open-ended. For example, the interviewer followed up on one teacher's comments regarding a CLD student. This student at first had been thought to have a behavior disorder problem. When one of the specialist teachers suggested the possibility that the boy might be visually impaired, the school arranged for an eye examination and paid for his glasses.

Observation data were initially collected for one hour in each participant's classroom (including Title One, ESL, and speech), in the principal's office, in the library, in the schoolyard, and in and around the school. Extensive field notes were taken, recording details about the physical setting, the educational environment and materials, and the interaction between the teachers and the children. Weekly follow-up observations were done in those classrooms with CLD students. The observations focused on the interaction of the CLD children with the teachers and other children, the resources available and how they were used, and a general view of instructional routines and activities as they related to the CLD children.

Letters to parents, memos, and weekly school newsletters were examined to provide other perspectives that gave clues and direct information about the ways in which the school was adapting to the changes in school population, and about the teachers' beliefs, attitudes, and practices. All of the documents examined were recorded on a document summary form, which included a summary of each document, noting the type of document, its use, and contents. A field journal was kept in the form of a log of day-to-day activities, as was a personal log, for introspection and reflection. A log of methodological decisions that recorded and explained the emergent design also provided a running account of the inquiry process.

Data Analysis

Eisner's (1991) framework for studying the five dimensions of educational settings provides an analytic tool to explore the adaptation made at the school in response to the increase in demographic diversity. The Intentional Dimension reflects what the educational setting claims it is doing-its stated goals. The Structural Dimension focuses on the organization of the educational setting, the structure of the school day, and the time allotted to subjects. The curricular Dimension involves the quality of the curricular content and goals. The Pedagogical Dimension has to do with the way in which the curriculum is being taught. The Evaluative Dimension considers testing procedures and philosophies.

The authors used four methods of data analysis and interpretation: 1) categorical aggregation, 2) searching for patterns and themes, 3) direct interpretation, and 4) naturalistic generalization. While initially a priori categories based on Eisner's five educational setting dimensions were used, an additional dimension, the "Professional Dimension," was added when certain themes emerged from the data that did not fit within any of the original categories. This additional dimension involves the perspectives of the school faculty, their professional development, and their personal, practical knowledge and experiences. Using these six dimensions, the authors constructed a description of the process of adaptation to an increase in cultural and linguistic diversity.

A chain of evidence was established in an audit trail, and member checks (Yin, 1994) validated interpretations of the data. Member checks were done after each tape had been analyzed concurrently with data collection. This established the validity of the analyses, and guided further professional conversations and observations.


A picture of this school's adaptation process clearly emerged as each of Eisner's dimensions of educational settings was explored. The findings for each dimension are summarized below.

The Intentional Dimension

The Intentional Dimension reflects the stated goals of the educational setting. The principal of this school stated that the school's goals with regard to cultural diversity were "to help children be successful in a multicultural society" Later in her interview, however, she acknowledged that she believed that the teaching of basic skills must take precedence over multicultural issues.

While the school's emphasis on the acquisition of basic skills was clearly evident from the observations made in each classroom, far fewer observations were available to support the goal of developing multicultural understanding. Children spent long periods of time working on reading, writing, and mathematics lessons, and the teachers' comments in their interviews reinforced this emphasis. For example, one kindergarten teacher stated that the goal for culturally and linguistically diverse students is to enable them to "learn the academic and social skills that would make them a productive member of society....Being able to read and write and do all those things would only benefit them wherever they go."

An unstated goal was to enable the CLD students to succeed on the State Core standardized tests. Field notes indicated that much time was spent by school staff deliberating over how best to accomplish this goal. The principal and teachers expressed concern in their comments for the children who did not test well on the State Core Test. The belief that the best teachers and the best schools get the highest scores on standardized tests was clearly evident throughout the observational and interview data.

The Structural Dimension

The Structural Dimension focuses on the organization of the educational setting, the structure of the school day, and the time allotted to subjects. Observations at this school made it clear that tracking and retention in grade were considered to be effective ways to address the needs of CLD children. At this school, one of the eight kindergarten sections is smaller in number and caters to the culturally and linguistically diverse students, who are primarily Spanish speaking. The teacher of the class speaks some Spanish, and so requested these children. Spanish-speaking students were often retained in this class, as well as in the other kindergartens. As a rationale, one kindergarten teacher stated:

Some of those children also act very young. Rather than give them failure when they get to 1st grade, a lot of the Spanish students, not all of them, but a good percentage of them, will take kindergarten twice, especially if they are...very active child[ren] and can't follow the rules, can't sit down and work on their own. And it gives them the chance of having heard everything one time through, and not always understanding everything that was done. The second time through they have a better understanding.

In addition, the school has organized smaller "at risk" and "opportunity" classes for both the 1st- and 2nd-grade students. On average, 83 percent of the CLD students were tracked into these classes in order to provide remedial reading and math instruction. In addition, children were placed in these classes if they were perceived as not behaving according to school norms, or not achieving academically. The main criterion for assigning teachers to these "at risk" and "opportunity" classes was certification in special education, rather than early childhood specialization. Students in both types of classes received additional help from specialists and paraprofessionals, and the students in "at risk" classrooms received the most help.

The school schedule reflected the goal of teaching the basic skills, as stated by the principal. Reading, language arts, math, and science were allotted more time than any other subjects; however, all 1st- and 2nd-graders had a 30-minute Spanish class approximately every three days. No time was allotted on the schedule for social studies; the principal explained that the school emphasizes science, and that social studies is not part of the curriculum. The classes visited the media center once a week, and they had regular computer classes, music, and physical education. OLD students in need of ESL assistance spent half an hour each day with the ESL teacher. Children who need speech and language instruction from specialists received that assistance during recess time.

Using external grant funds, a community-outreach program was developed in an effort to reach out to Latino families. The outreach program, designed to assist low-income families whose children could be considered to be at risk for school failure, provided a director who gets to know the families and assists them in understanding school expectations. Spanish speakers were also made available as translators for school personnel, and a great effort was made to translate notes sent home into Spanish. While parents were made aware of school expectations, the teachers did not report that they, in turn, were learning about these Spanish-speaking families. Statements by the teachers revealed much misunderstanding and misinformation about the Latino families. For example, there was a widespread assumption among the teachers that the parents were not interested in what went on at school because they did not volunteer to help in the classrooms.

Curricular Dimension

The Curricular Dimension involves the quality of the curricular content and goals. Given that one of the school's goals is to prepare children to live in a multicultural society, the researchers focused on exploring this particular dimension. Efforts to include multicultural education at this school constituted a "contributions" approach, also known as a "heroes and holidays" approach (Banks, 1992). When asked about multicultural education in their classrooms, the teachers responded with such comments as: "At Christmas time, we talk about the different holidays. You know, that there's not necessarily just Christmas." "We talked in February, because it was Black History Month, so I brought in several stories of people." And, "We've read Martin Luther King and we read the book. [about] Rosa Parks. . . plus on Abraham Lincoln's birthday we talked a lot about slavery. . . ." The eight "at risk" and "opportunity" class teachers admitted that they were less likely to integrate any multicultural content into the cur riculum, due to the emphasis on teaching basic skills in their classes. One "opportunity" teacher stated, "They don't have cultural diversity or ESL in the core; ... I'm required to teach the core, and I'm interpreting that as basic skills, basic reading, and language and math abilities."

One of the speech and language teachers at the school acted as the coordinator for multicultural programs (assemblies). This resembled an additive program, bringing multicultural activities and programs to the school in such a way as to effect no change to the essential classroom curricula (Banks, 1992). The coordinator organized a number of cultural activities and presentations at the school. Students enjoyed Spanish dancers, an African American speaker, and Native American assemblies. The principal described herself as very supportive of these efforts. She stated, "We've always done a lot of cultures and we've tried to bring in a lot of artists from [the state] dealing with the various cultures, and we've focused on two or three countries a year; I think it's helped [the children] to be aware of other people." The principal expressed her belief that it would be difficult to include much more in the way of multicultural education at the school, because time for social studies was not allotted in the school c urriculum.

Few of the teachers seemed to use multicultural books in their classrooms. Only one of the teachers had a sizeable collection of such literature in her classroom, and these were her personal books. Interestingly, she was a new teacher who had no culturally diverse students in her class. The media specialist stated that she was trying to increase the number of Spanish, bilingual, and multicultural books in the school library, as funds became available.

The teaching of Spanish language and culture to the 1st- and 2nd-grade students by one of the paraprofessionals, a native Spanish speaker, did serve to bridge the gap between home and school for the Latino children. The Spanish lessons, according to faculty, also had an ameliorating effect on the Euro-American students' attitudes toward the Latino students. The Title One teacher explained, "Probably the best thing I've seen this year that's happened is having Xaviera (a pseudonym) teaching Spanish to the 1st- and 2nd-graders. I have seen more acceptance of the Hispanic children." The media specialist added, "Others are starting to say Spanish words to the Hispanic children. What a pride for those kids who can speak it. They become a teacher's helper." Teachers consistently acknowledged the benefits of Xaviera's efforts to teach Spanish language and culture to the students.

The Curricular Dimension at this school was heavily weighted toward teaching the basic skills, and this trend was acknowledged by all of the participants in their interviews and evident in all the classroom observations. Curriculum content was uniform across classes at each grade level; for example, each class worked on identical spelling lists each week. Children in "at risk" and "opportunity" classes spent most of their time sitting and listening or working independently and silently on assignments. Garcia (1993) argues that motivation empowers CLD students, and that a challenging curriculum suggests to students that the teachers expect them to succeed. Five teachers, including two who were in their first year of teaching, did express concerns that the curriculum content was not challenging or interesting.

Pedagogical Dimension

The Pedagogical Dimension has to do with the way the curriculum is taught. An equity pedagogy is one that requires teachers to increase the academic achievement of students who are culturally different from the mainstream by using teaching strategies that match their needs and learning styles (Banks, 1993; Garcia, 1993). During the classroom observations, no evidence emerged that the regular classroom teachers modified their teaching to accommodate various learning styles. There were, however, times when teachers slowed down the rate of instruction or gave more explanations to compensate for the language limitations. A 1st-grade teacher shared, "I really watch the math pages so that they can do one or two themselves before I leave and go to someone else." She added, "I'm reading a little slower in our reading books. I'm spending three days on a story where I would rather master it in two days." Another 1st-grade teacher responded, "Sometimes I just sat down with him (a CLD student) and made him do it. If I ga ve him any space at all, he just wouldn't do it." A kindergarten teacher ruefully described an incident working with a CLD student: "It's a little like talking to someone who is deaf. You say it over and over again, and you keep getting louder, thinking that is going to help."

Interviews with the five specialist teachers, all of whom had some formal training or experience in multicultural education, highlighted the classroom teachers' comments. These specialist teachers have the opportunity to see what is happening in the classrooms while they are working with individual children. One of the specialist teachers responded, "Adapting teaching to fit learning styles? I don't see a whole lot yet, unfortunately" Another specialist commented, "The teacher thinks, 'They must all do this together because that is effective learning."' She went on to explain that the classroom teachers truly seem to believe that every child in the class must be doing the same thing and learning the same material. A third specialist sha red that she wants teachers to realize "that when a child comes in who doesn't speak a word of English, don't give them paperwork to do.... They have to absorb and learn the language first."

After lengthy and frequent observations of the classes, it became evident that the specialist teachers used more varied teaching strategies, and also expressed more awareness of using appropriate instruction for teaching culturally diverse students. The Spanish teacher (a paraprofessional) was described by another teacher as using instruction that was "hands-on, active, meaningful to real life. She may do something that is physically active. They'll be singing songs that they can translate to basic English." The speech and language specialist shared how she introduced kinetic learning and songs into her language instruction. She believes that learning should be more holistic, that the whole body should be involved. While these specialist teachers tried to adapt instruction, they also admitted to a lack of knowledge and skill. Four of the six specialists were taking courses for an ESL endorsement; only one classroom teacher was doing so.

Every classroom observation indicated that teacher-directed instruction was the strategy of choice for all the 1st- and 2nd-grade teachers, and also was the predominant strategy used in kindergarten. There was little interaction among the students, and minimal interaction between the classroom teachers and the individual students. Whole-group instruction was the norm in all subjects, except for in reading, where some small-group, teacher-directed instruction was used. No cooperative learning strategies were observed.

Evaluative Dimension

The Evaluative Dimension considers the ramifications of testing procedures and philosophies. The OLD students at this school are formally evaluated in a number of ways. For example, the OLD students' English progress is evaluated by the Title One teacher. During the time of the study, 12 kindergarten students, 11 1st-grade students, and 11 2nd-grade students were given an English language examination (the Initial Proficiency Test). The Title One teacher explained that the need to test a child's English proficiency is determined by parents' responses to four question: 1) What language did your child speak when he or she began to talk? 2) What language does your child mostly use at home? 3) What language do you mostly use when speaking to your child? and 4) What language is most often spoken by the adults at home? The Title One teacher said that if the response to any of these is other than English, the child must take an English language examination. Results of the test are used to make decisions about the edu cational needs of the OLD children.

All of the students are tested on the State Core Curriculum, a state-mandated standardized test administered on a yearly basis. The results of this test are taken seriously despite the fact that it is administered only in English. One classroom teacher, the only one taking the ESL endorsement courses, expressed some concern about this process. She commented, "We know they [the OLD students] are going to bomb it. We give them the core test because we are required to."

In the case of the Spanish-speaking students in kindergarten, the Spanish-speaking paraprofessional assesses them every 3 or 4 months in Spanish to evaluate conceptual knowledge. These tests are used to determine which students are to be placed in the "at risk" or "opportunity" classrooms, said an "at risk" class teacher, who added, "They identify children in kindergarten who are going to struggle or who appear to be struggling from testing."

There was a tendency to avoid testing CLD children for learning problems because of the language variable, according to the Title One teacher. She added, "We have been so leery about qualifying children, we've bent over backwards the other way. In five years we've only had one [CLD] child that's ever been identified and given an TEP." It is interesting that faculty are wary of formally labeling CLD children, while at the same time placing these students in special "at risk" or "opportunity" classes, where they are taught by special educators as if they have learning problems.

Professional Dimension

The need to create this dimension emerged from the data. The Professional Dimension involves the perspectives of the school faculty, their professional development, and their personal, practical knowledge. Within this dimension, four impediments to effective practice emerged. A lack of resources to support the development of a multicultural program and culturally appropriate teaching was mentioned by all five specialist teachers, the paraprofessional who taught Spanish, and six regular classroom teachers. These teachers, and especially the media specialist, primarily wished for more multicultural, Spanish, and bilingual books in the library and their classrooms.

Lack of professional development support was another impediment. Teachers are not required to take inservice courses or workshops in multicultural education or educating CLD students, nor does the district provide short, accessible development opportunities. The district did organize an ESL endorsement, but the length of the program discouraged several teachers, as they did not have time to attend so many classes. Five teachers from the school enrolled in this class, but only one of those was a regular classroom teacher.

Another obstacle was lack of time. In order to acquire the knowledge and skills to change and develop best teaching practice, teachers need the time to take classes, read the relevant literature, and prepare new teaching approaches. The media teacher stated, "You know, that's tough for a teacher with so many other children, and you have one that can't be [taught with the others]." Another specialist teacher commented, "You know, I think they [the classroom teachers] are swamped.... If they have all the materials at their hand, or somebody else does it for them, they are more than willing to participate if it's organized."

Concerns regarding the CLD students were most frequently expressed by all of the specialist teachers. They expressed concern about the quality of the multicultural program at the school and about how to test the CLD students appropriately. They also expressed concern that 83% of the CLD students were placed in "at risk" and "opportunity" classes.

Both regular and specialist teachers shared concerns that they did not know enough about other cultures or the backgrounds of their students. A kindergarten teacher shared, "I feel really limited in my own background. I feel like I don't know enough about other cultures to start even teaching about other cultures or integrating."

A number of positive aspects of the school's adaptation process were shared. Several teachers commented on how professionally supportive their principal was. She was seen as doing her best to provide the time and resources to help teachers grow professionally. The school also had a new on-site committee that discussed problems and worked to develop solutions. This committee was instrumental in the hiring of one of the specialist teachers to take on the role of coordinator for cultural programs. A Children's Advocacy Team (CAT) also was formed to help CLD children and the teachers. The team provided help and guidance to teachers who were struggling in their work with CLD students. Unfortunately, while all the specialist teachers attended these meetings, only one classroom teacher attended. During the time of this inquiry, the team was just beginning to function. Efforts to increase contact with Latino families through thefr community outreach program were also seen as positive.


The stated goals of this school--to help children be successful in a multicultural society, and ensure that they learn basic skills--reflect the goals of multicultural education and indicate that the administrators and teachers have good intentions in their efforts to address the issue of diversity. Nevertheless, these good intentions fall short of a successful multicultural program. The findings of this inquiry illustrate the limited extent to which this school has successfully met its stated goals, and that acculturation, in fact, is the outcome.

Several aspects of this school do facilitate the attainment of the stated goals: the implementation of the community outreach program and its subsequent involvement with culturally diverse families, and the introduction of Spanish lessons into the school schedule. Assigning the coordination of a multicultural program to one of the teachers also has potential. Notably, however, the above programs were coordinated by the specialist teachers, rather than regular classroom teachers.

On the other hand, this school has organized "at risk" and "opportunity" classes for both the 1st- and 2nd-grade students. This practice is not consistent with what research shows about the variations in developmental rates in young children, nor does it allow for the equity and empowerment for minority students called for by multicultural educators (Banks, 1992; Cummins, 1986; Garcia, 1993; Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Most of the OLD students are tracked into these classes in order to provide remedial instruction for them in the basic skills of reading and math. In addition, children who are not perceived as behaving according to school norms, nor as achieving academically, are expected to repeat kindergarten. This practice supports the contention that the majority culture has low expectations for its minority students, and it runs counter to the call for empowerment and equity pedagogy (Banks, 1992; Garcia, 1993).

The very fact that the principal and the majority of the teachers support this practice indicates that they subscribe to a cultural deficit theory (Sleeter & Grant, 1994), which argues that culturally and linguistically diverse students are educationally "at risk" and that their only chance for academic and professional success is by adopting the norms of the majority culture. Language fluency is recognized as an essential part of cultural knowledge and cultural congruence. The failure of linguistically diverse children to achieve in school is attributed to cultural deprivation, and educators strive to assimilate them into mainstream, white, middle-class culture (King, Ohipman, & Cruz-Janzen, 1994; Sleeter & Grant, 1994).

Using certification in special education as the main criterion for assigning teachers to these "at risk" and "opportunity" classes also equates cultural and linguistic differences with learning and behavior problems. Training in special education does not mean that these teachers are skilled in addressing culturally based learning needs and goes against the belief that training in early childhood methods and multicultural education are the most important criteria to ensure best practice for young OLD children (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 1996).

Young children benefit from a variety of instructional methods; interaction with materials, adults, and other children; choice of activities; meaningful learning that is related to the children's experiences; and the involvement of families. These elements of effective practice are recommended for both OLD students and non-OLD students (NAEYO, 1996).

The absence of a social studies curriculum is clearly an impediment to the development of students who can function successfully in a multicultural society. Learning about diverse perspectives and developing cultural and social understanding are important goals in any effective social studies program. Despite the goal of developing multicultural citizens, these educators have opted to drop social studies from the curriculum to allow more time for the basics. One way students learn whether something is important to a society is by assessing how much time and attention is allocated to it (Eisner, 1991). They also learn what is not important by what is neglected. The importance of this "hidden curriculum" does not appear to be understood by the principal or the majority of the school staff.

There is a clear need for culturally relevant information, books, and references that could help span the bridge between home and school culture. The media teacher is trying to acquire more books in other languages, especially Spanish, and to increase the library's collection of multicultural books and videos. With training, teachers will be able to use materials that more clearly connect curriculum content to the student population.

Curriculum and pedagogy are inextricably linked. The way curriculum content is taught has a great effect on how students experience and understand it (Eisner, 1991). The findings indicate that in addressing cultural and linguistic differences, the teachers are unaware of the need to adapt their instructional techniques. The "effective principles" approach to teaching (Garcia, 1993) indicates that if instruction is based on the principles of teaching that have proven effective across various cultures, then CLD students would succeed in school. The findings from this inquiry indicate that there is little variation in teaching styles used by the regular classroom teachers; teacher-directed and direct-instruction styles were the methods of choice.

The principal contends that direct instruction is the most effective method for teaching reading, particularly to "at risk" students. Inherent in this remark is the belief that CLD students are "at risk." This is a common assumption deplored by multiculturalists (Banks & Banks, 1993; Ogbu, 1987). For children who either need to develop language skills, or who learn best through other instructional methods, a total regimen of direct instruction is not effective.

In order to meet the requirements for effective teaching for OLD students, the teachers must try to incorporate a wider variety of instructional methods into their teaching repertoire. It is true that direct instruction is an effective method (Rosenshine, 1986), but it is not the only one and may not meet all the needs of many students.

The evaluation practices used by a school greatly influence what is considered to be important and, therefore, what receives more time and emphasis. The pressure to get the highest possible scores on the end-of-the-year State Core Test drives the school's curriculum and pedagogy. Students are not given the time to practice and enjoy the skills they have just mastered, as they must move on to the next objective in order to cover the "tested" curriculum. Hence, the need to create "at risk" and "opportunity" classes to focus on skill-and-drill strategies in the basics. Similarly, because social studies is not tested, there is no perceived need to teach it.

The list of impediments to practice is lengthy and a matter for concern, because however dedicated or motivated the teachers may be, without support they are unlikely to make the necessary changes. While the teachers and principal believe it is important to address the needs of CLD students, they do not have the necessary time, skills, and knowledge to do so (Fullan, 1993). Without the necessary professional development and mentoring, good intentions will not translate into action.

The value of having teachers with experience and training in multicultural and ESL education, and with varied cultural backgrounds, is clearly demonstrated in this inquiry. This school's specialist teachers, who all have education and personal experience in multicultural issues, have been the impetus for change. They are the voices that continually question the types of experiences this school provides for CLD children. It is unclear what the school's approach would have been if none of the staff had training or experience. Nor is it clear what the school's approach would be if any or all of these teachers left the school.


These findings indicate that however good their intentions, these Euro-American early childhood teachers found it difficult to adapt to increases in culturally and linguistically different children in their classrooms. While over half of these teachers and the principal have received education degrees in the last 15 years, a time period during which universities in the state have been working to sensitize teachers to multicultural issues, the training was not sufficient to significantly affect the way CLD children are taught in this school. This study demonstrates that well-meaning teachers end up supporting programs that work against the optimal development of CLD students. The clearer understanding we have gained of this particular school's functioning has implications for other school settings as well. Many of these same practices and barriers to change exist in other schools across the United States (Mora, 2000). Three noteworthy implications for other school settings are shared below.

First, teachers need more opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge, and positive attitudes necessary to be effective educators of young, culturally diverse students. In this school, many of the teachers and the principal had been exposed to multicultural education as students in teacher education programs; however, they needed more training, especially specialized training in how to work with CLD students in an immersion setting. The specialist teachers had more multicultural experiences and were taking courses on second-language learners and they were making the biggest difference at this school. Offering ongoing staff development and ensuring the time for teachers to engage in such professional growth is critical.

Second, if administrators and teachers see standardized test scores as the most important measurement of their success with CLD students, faculty and staff will not provide optimal support for the long-term cognitive, social/emotional, and cultural needs of the child. Administrators and teacher educators must take strong stands to counter the pressure on teachers of young CLD students to see high standardized test scores as the ultimate goal.

Third, the significant influence of inertia should not be overlooked. Many of these teachers shared important concerns regarding the education of CLD students. Teachers expressed concerns about tracking, labeling, testing, lack of resources, and pedagogy. While there were actions these teachers could take, such as becoming involved in the school's community outreach program or taking classes on teaching CLD students, few did so. While the teachers expressed dissatisfaction, they seemed loath to make any change. Hiring administrators and faculty leaders who have strong leadership skills and expertise in working with diverse populations is needed. Motivating a faculty to dramatically change the way the business of schooling is conducted is difficult, but it can be done, particularly when the seeds of good intentions are already in place.


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Author:Byrnes, Deborah A.
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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