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Dr. Rosa Maria Abrero and Dr. Kimberly S. Barker, Published National Refereed Article in NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS


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Dr. Rosa Maria Abrero and Dr. Kimberly S. Barker, Published National Refereed Article in NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS

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Dr. Rosa Maria Abrero and Dr. Kimberly S. Barker, Published National Refereed Article in NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS

  1. 1. NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALVOLUME 30, NUMBER 3, 201369THE ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY INPROMOTING CULTURAL COMPETENCEAMONG PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS: ATEXAS-ARIZONA PERSPECTIVE DROP-OUT PREVENTION IN LATINO YOUTHRosa Maria Abreo, Ph.D.Concordia UniversityKimberly S. Barker, Ed.D.Texas A&M University-San AntonioABSTRACTCulture has a strong impact on learning by students that come from minoritycultures. In this article the authors argue that the learner’s culturalbackground is important to academic success. They concur with Lal (2003)that cultural values, perceptions, and goals that shape the learner, will becatapulted in the learning process. They further contend that despite publicacknowledgement of important differences among learners, pedagogy that moststudents experience a uniform and cookie cutter approach to instruction. Amidthe current controversy stemming from nativist policies and sentiments, theauthors contend that the moral imperative to educate all children remainsunchanged to school administrators and other educators who must the addressthe problem in an era of diminishing resources. Ultimately, it is what happensin the individual classroom that will determine future dropout rates. Theauthors address the role of higher education teacher preparation as a linchpinfor success.IntroductionMore than 50 years ago, Nathaniel Cantor observed that ―thepublic elementary and high schools, and colleges, generally projectwhat they consider to be the proper way of learning which is uniform
  2. 2. 70NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALfor all students‖ (1946/1972, p.102). In 2010, much in this regardremains the same. Schools continue to function as though all studentsare the same; they are taught with the same curriculum, nodifferentiation of instruction, following the same scope and sequence,employing the same tests to measure success. In a standardized schoolenvironment, good for accountability administration, diversity takes aback seat. This ignores the reality postulated by Balsam & Tomie(1985) that the context in which someone grows and develops has animportant impact on learning. These beliefs, principles, and theoriesneed to be revisited frequently by educational practitioners and policymakers alike.The Dropout Dilemma-A National PerspectiveAccountability measures in public schools throughout theUnited States have painted a portrait of student success. High-stakestesting pinpoints those students who are proficient at content areassuch as math, reading, writing, social studies, and science.Unfortunately, the faces of many minority children are missing fromthe portrait of success in public schools. Considered ―at-risk‖ fordropping out and not graduating from high school, non-white studentscomplete public school at a rate well below that of white students.Despite decades of attempts to remedy this educational attainment gap,the problem remains. Minority at-risk students have a difficult timesuccessfully traversing through the American public school system.The educational attainment gap between minority students andwhite students has been explored exhaustively. Initiatives in teachertraining, tutoring, mentoring, interventions, and retention are some ofthe methods employed in public schools to increase learning successfor minority at-risk students. The success of these interventionsattempts is varied and localized. While some increase in achievementhas been obtained, wide-spread gains have not been visible. Despitethe decades of efforts made, the educational attainment gap persists
  3. 3. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER71(Gandara, 2010). With dropout rates among minority students at anunacceptably high level, educators must continue to explore reasonswhy the educational system is failing so many of its students.Despite a variety of reform efforts and intervention programsimplemented over the past several decades, public schools havechanged very little. Family structure and society have experiencedtremendous upheaval (Cuban, 2003; Glatthorn & Jailall, 2000).Vygotsky (1987) noted that learning and social interaction areintricately woven together and cannot be separated. Wink and Putney(2002) observed: ―Vygotsky believed that our life experiences affectand influence our development. Our use of language determines ourlearning; and our learning determines our use of language. None ofthis takes place in a vacuum‖ (p. 60). This is to say that culture has aprofound impact on learning. The cultural values, perceptions, andgoals that shape the learner, if accessed, can be used to catapult thelearning process (Lal, 2003).Collis (1999) and McLoughlin and Oliver(2000) noted the importance of considering the cultural backgroundsof learners in designing computer based learning experiences as well.The consequences of disregarding the cultural connection are serious.Students who do not identify with schools and their teachers loseinterest and motivation (Valenzuela, 1999). While on the other hand,culturally relevant teaching can promote student success amongminority students (DeCuir-Gunby, Taliaferro, & Greenfield, 2010).The Historical ContextThe American school system has long been invested in thebelief that all students should have the opportunity for success. Thefirst U.S. Department of Education was created in 1867 to assist statesthat were establishing school systems for the first time and to collectinformation concerning educational matters (U.S. Department ofEducation, 2005). In 1892 a National Council of Education met todiscuss and map a standardized core curriculum for high schools thatwould prepare students for college, life, and work (Boyer, 1983). This
  4. 4. 72NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALCommittee of Ten called for all students, college bound or not, to beeducated the same, which was a novel concept for the time. It wasassumed that to be ready for college was the primary purpose of thehigh school. This ideology created an American school system thathelped Americanize new immigrants and ―stood as a symbol of hope‖for bettering oneself (Boyer, 1983, p. 50). Education was no longer tobe limited to the privileged or the social elites. These early foundationsof standardized education found different manifestations over the nextcentury that included two world wars, the Great Depression, the ColdWar, and the Civil Rights Movement.It was the Cold War that fueled the first comprehensive Federallegislation targeting education. Boyer explained:…it took Sputnik to push school improvement to the top of thenational agenda. The National Defense Education Act of 1958provided funds for the improvement of science, mathematics,and foreign-language teaching. It was subsequently broadenedto include support for the humanities and social sciences aswell. Rigor became the catchword of the day. (p. 54)As the United States traversed the tumultuous times of the1960s and 1970s, the Department of Education enforced the civilrights of students, applying several different laws including Title VI ofthe Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendmentsof 1972, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Everyperson was deemed entitled to a free and appropriate education. Intheory noperson could be denied equal protection under these laws.The emphasis turned toward proving procedural due process for anychild referred for evaluation and placement(Byer & Johnson, 2005).The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965provided programs such as Title I to help address the needs of poorand disadvantaged students. The Department of Education waselevated to a cabinet level agency in 1980, with the Secretary of
  5. 5. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER73Education overseeing the nation‘s educational challenges and workingto improve education for all students (U.S. Department of Education,2005).It was during the late 1970s and the 1980s that growing publicdemand for improvement in public education culminated in theNational Commission on Excellence in Education‘s (NCEE) 1983report, A Nation at Risk (Angus & Mirel, 1999). It was a scathingindictment of the inadequacies and inequalities of the public schoolsystem. Angus and Mirel (1999) note that ―A Nation at Riskreanimated the idea that equality of educational opportunity meant thatall students should have access to the same high quality programs, inother words, that ‗identical‘ education was indeed the true definitionof equal education‖ (p. 167). For the next decade, A Nation at Riskwas the source of much debate, a variety of reform efforts, morerigorous high school graduation requirements, and a push to increaseexcellence in schools. States were left to make decisions as to how toimprove education for their students.As statistics indicated that minorities and disadvantagedstudents continued to be trapped in an achievement gap despitereform, one of the most sweeping federal policies was launched in aneffort to assure all students receive quality educational experiences.The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) uses accountability andassessment tools to require states by law to address the achievementgap (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).School Funding As Long-term Failed Panacea:A Nation Still At RiskThe Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 was thelargest source of monies coming to states to bridge the gap betweenminorities whose language was other than English. The trendcontinues, funds coming to states and districts, and the dropout rates
  6. 6. 74NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALcontinue to be the same. The academic gap that exists betweenmonolingual and minorities is still evident. So what have all thesemonies accomplished? The U.S. Census Bureau (2010) reported thatdropouts face an increasingly bleak career prospects. A high schooldropout earns an average of $9,000 a year less than a high schoolgraduate. With more than half a million young people dropping out ofhigh school each year nationwide, the dropout dilemma is real and noamount of monies will remedy the situation unless a closer look istaken into the classroom and the teachers in them.Figure 1. Averaged freshman graduation rate: 2007-2008 school year.Texas falls slightly below the national average for dropouts ingrades nine through eleven (See Figure 1).The states with the largestgrowth in populations are Texas, California, Florida, Georgia,Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Nevada, and Colorado(U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). The tremendous growth in migrantpopulations in these states intensifies and complicates the dilemma ofthe dropout problem on a national scale, particularly with growingnativist sentiments and policies in Arizona and elsewhere. In states
  7. 7. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER75where the dropout problem is severe among migrant children,programs that have been proven to work (Texas Education Agency,2008) promises hope for transforming the system and improvinggraduation rates, calling for strategies that are closely tied to results atimproving high school graduation rates.Short-term, isolated programs have been instituted over the last50 years but without significant impact. Year after year new programsemerge with promises of improved drop-out rates as millions ofdollars continue to be pumped into programs that show few positiveresults. The lack of impact reveals that costly new band-aidprescriptions for the age-old problem of student alienation anddropping out of school is not likely. Money is spent and careers aremade, while the status quo remains. The real challenge facing schooladministrators and public policy makers is to be honest and truthfulabout the real problem in the schools. Until problems are firstaddressed in the classroom, no amount of money or no new programwill prove over time to be successful in reducing the number or rate ofdropouts among Latino students.Figure 1 also reveals that in the 12thgrade the Texas‘ annualdropout rate exceeded the national average.The Latino populationdropout rate exceeds the overall numbers of the state. Latinos continueto drop out of school. The academic achievement gap between Latinosand other groups continues to widen. Fifty years of research, funding,and practice have been fruitless. This phenomenon will continuebecause it is not money that fixes problems. It is caring, committed,and skilled teachers that will make a difference. The education of pre-service teachers coming into the field of education and preparing themwith the proper tools is what will make caring, committed, and skilledteachers. Teaching teachers to understand diversity, using it as a toolfor improving instruction is critical. Understanding how minoritypopulations learn should be central to lesson planning and delivery ofinstruction. Teacher preparation and on-going staff development are
  8. 8. 76NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALkeys to achieving such high levels of cultural competence. Additionalgrade-by-grade breakdowns by ethnicity are provided in Table 1.Table 1Students, Dropouts, and Annual Dropout Rate, by Student Group andGrade, Texas Public Schools, 2007-08 (Source: Texas EducationAgency)7thGrade Student#Dropout%Dropout#Annual%AnnualDropout%AfricanAmerican50,594 14.5 198 26.9 0.4Asian/PacificIslander<11,745 –a – – 0.2Hispanic 161,115 46.1 385 52.2 0.2NativeAmerican<1,305 – – – 0.2White 124,415 35.6 131 17.8 0.1Economicallydisadvantaged 184,122 52.7 370 50.2 0.2State 349,153 100 737 100 0.2
  9. 9. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER778hGrade Student#Dropout%Dropout#Annual%AnnualDropout%AfricanAmerican50,034 14.6 277 22.1 0.6Asian/PacificIslander<11,520 – – – 0.2Hispanic 153,930 45.0 741 59.2 0.5NativeAmerican<1,230 – – – 0.2White 125,434 36.7 212 16.9 0.2Economicallydisadvantaged172,610 50.5 684 54.7 0.4State 342,129 100 1,251 100 0.49thGrade Student#Dropout%Dropout#Annual%AnnualDropout%AfricanAmerican64,250 15.5 2,746 23.1 4.3Asian/PacificIslander12,593 3.0 110 0.9 0.9Hispanic 194,068 46.9 7,309 61.6 3.8NativeAmerican1,533 0.4 33 0.3 2.2White 140,950 34.1 1,665 14.0 1.2Economicallydisadvantaged202,323 48.9 5,981 50.4 3.0State 413,394 100 11,863 100 2.9The Dropout Dilemma-ArizonaThe Native American Communities have also been facing the
  10. 10. 78NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALsame dilemma in their students dropping out of high schools. TheArizona dropout rate has reached unacceptable levels. Many studentsare not graduating from high school. Most of these are fromeconomically and socially disadvantaged minority communities.Figure 3 provides recent grade-by-grade breakdowns of the alarminglack of student success in Arizona. Though the ―drop-out rates‖ do notseem high at any specific grade, the cumulative effect is extraordinary.Furthermore, every number, every statistic, is a child – every numberis a life that will touch many, many more lives when they age out ofschooling, enter the labor force, and have a family. The impact ofschool failure on one child will be passed from generation togeneration until the cycle is broken.Table 2Arizona High School Dropout Rates 2007-08STATE BY GRADEGradeNumber ofStudentsNumber ofDropouts Dropout RateAll Grades 525474 18779 3.67 88499 1028 1.28 88232 1138 1.39 91343 2542 2.810 88160 3306 3.811 82034 4133 512 87206 6632 7.6Source: Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center, 2008-09
  11. 11. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER79The Cultural ConnectionThe standardization of our educational systems has forced theefforts of many schools either to reduce or remove traces of culturalconnectedness in the curriculum. For example, art programs, music,and cultural literature have been eliminated in favor of instruction thatconcentrates more on state exams. The dilemma is that lack of identityof students creates a lack of connectedness within the classroom.Teachers often fail to look beyond the surface features of a culture toget to know the culture bearers of a community and becoming familiarwith aspects of the local language and culture (Barnhardt, 2010).Teachers, therefore, must be more aware than ever about how theirpersonal views can hurt children and must seek to avoid culturaljudgments of their students.Students need to feel a core sense of connectedness in order tofeel they belong. Any adult willing to allow these students to talkabout their culture and their experiences can achieve tremendousresults in this manner. Feeling alienated, students who do notexperience this kind of respect and acknowledgement of their culturedisengage from the teaching and learning process. Without the feelingof connectedness the cycle of alienation and dropping out begins.Students that have not experienced a sense of belonging in the schoolsfail to grasp its relevance to their lives. When the content ofcurriculum is devoid of their cultural story and identity, students aredeprived of an opportunity to know more about their rich culturalheritage. When this happens, an enormous opportunity to engageLatino students is lost. When honoring and valuing these children andcelebrating their diversity occurs, teachers play major role ininterrupting the recurrent cycle of that leads to alienation, dropping outof school, and ultimately, poverty.
  12. 12. 80NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALBuilding Cultural IdentityNoddings (2003), writing on caring, created a different view onthe ethics and purpose of education. Relationship is seen as the basisof ethics and the core value that makes teaching effective. Noddingsfurther explained that the aim of education should be to allow caring toflourish and the relationship between the teacher and learner is vital.Teacher as ―giver‖ and ―nurturer‖ is central. Schooling needs to beabout education building relationships. There is strong ethical andmoral imperative to identify and assist students that are at risk ofdropping out. The research about caring, nurturing teachers, stronglysuggests how an educator can make a difference in the lives ofstudents. The need to seek acceptance is part of culture and humancondition to belong, to be loved and to love. So what is so difficultabout including caring, nurturing teachers, recruiting the best possiblewho care and can help build and discover the talent in the studentswho come from minority cultures. In doing so, this will and can havea tremendous impact on lowering the dropout rate.Valenzuela‘s (2005) research concludes that the gap of caringbetween teachers and students creates animosity between the schooland the students, leading to high drop-out rates and lower academicstandards. Students in this type of environment learn to give up –―learned helplessness‖ leads students to anger and despair. They feelthat teachers ―don‘t care about.‖ Many simply give up.Recommendations for Universities:Toward GreaterCultural Competence Among Pre-Service TeachersTo achieve greater teaching success, to stem the growing tideof school drop-outs at all ages, pre-service teachers and teachers alikeshould be prepared and supported by universities in the followingways:
  13. 13. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER811. It is each individual teacher that influences whether a childwill drop out of school or whether he or she will persist,remaining in the educational pipeline through completionof the high school diploma and ultimately the collegedegree. The training, recruitment, selection, and inductionof teachers into the teaching profession should be donewith this in mind. There should be a strong sense ofurgency and mindfulness of this very fact. Teacherdevelopment and team building in schools should be basedpartly on how well the school, the team, and the individualis doing regarding culturally competent teaching.2. The pre-service teacher should be taught and mentored by asuccessful practicing teacher who knows how to teachchildren, who knows what to teach them, and whopassionately loves the children they teach. Universitiesshould develop and keep a track record for each of itsteacher graduates. How are the former students doing asteachers? How are their students doing? Attaining a degreein teaching should include a component of demonstratingmaturity and passion for teaching students who aredifferent. A follow-up tracking system needs to bedeveloped that identifies cultural competence andcompassion of the teacher as well as other measures ofstudent competencies.3. Institutions of higher learning should seek to balance theirteaching faculty by including the most experiencedprofessors who have previously successfully taught in thepublic or private school ―trenches‖ more than 3 years.These professors should spend time in the field with theirformer students to learn about new challenges and to findways to support them in meeting new challenges eitherthrough research, collaboration, or professionaldevelopment.4. Institutions of higher learning should consider hiringvisiting faculty members who have distinguished
  14. 14. 82NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALthemselves as teachers; especially those that have taughtmore than 6 years in an area that they will be teaching atthe university level.5. Mentorship programs of adults mentoring children shouldbe encouraged and promoted. Schools can provideenvironments which foster the growth of volunteer mentorswithin the schools and at the same time offertraining/development in order to understand the student andtheir stage of development. University faculty shouldbecome an integral part of such programs. Educationmajors, both undergraduate and graduate level should berequired to serve in mentoring roles to young children.Research shows that at-risk youth perform much better inschool and in life when a caring adult has taken an interestin their lives and their academic success.6. Universities should offer courses and training within theirclasses to enhance the knowledge and understanding ofstudents that come from diversified cultures. This will helpfoster the building of relationships within the schoolcommunity that enhance student success. The culturaldifferences and the belief systems of students must beexamined and understood in current and historical contexts.This enhanced perspective can help guide culturallyrelevant connectedness in the classroom.7. To this end, every LEP (Limited English Proficiency) andmigrant student needs to feel a sense of belonging and feelcapable of learning in a safe environment of acceptancenotwithstanding the national mood regarding immigration.The lack of multicultural curriculum components withinmany of the districts and the universities makes itimperative to access the need for the inclusion ofdiversified cultural training in order to promote teacherunderstanding of the deeper cultural roots of the studentswithin the classroom.
  15. 15. ___________________________________________________ABREO & BARKER83ConclusionAs the dropout problem remains unacceptably high amongminority populations, there is an urgency to explore possible solutionsto this critical problem that exists throughout the United States,particularly in Arizona and Texas. This dilemma will be furtherexacerbated by the tensions arising over illegal immigration and publicpolicy related to enforcement of immigration laws. Whatever thestatus of the parents, the children must continue to be served andeducated for the good of American society as well as for theindividuals. Because of the hostility and fear, many children will beeven more at risk. This dilemma is also one faced by growing numbersof states.Too many years have passed and millions of dollars have beenspent, yet we as a nation have not begun to make a dent in this nationalproblem. Unless educators and policy makers look outside the box forviable solutions to minority education issues, the continuing practiceof allowing ineffective educational spending will not promote thesuccess of Latino children and those of other cultures. Untiluniversities learn how to produce caring and nurturing teachers,nothing will change. Until parents take responsibility for theeducation at home of their children, the problem will continue. Therole of the school must remain to educate those who enter through thedoors, but the responsibility lies in all of the stakeholders. Thediversity of this country makes it imperative to improve theeducational experience and retain more minority students. In keepingwith its traditional role over the past century, universities must step upand take the lead in developing a generation of culturally competenteducators. This should be the end in sight—to create a new generationof teachers that is both able and willing to celebrate the uniqueness ineach child and inspire that child to continue learning for the rest of hisor her lifetime.
  16. 16. 84NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNALReferencesAngus, D. L.,& Mirel, J. E. (1999). The failed promise of theAmerican high school: 1890-1995. New York, NY: TeachersCollege Press.Arizona Commission for Post-Secondary Education. (2001, Fall)..Arizona minority dropout solutions (pp. 1-22).Retrieved fromMinority Education Policy Analysis Center (AMEPAC)website:, P.D.,& Tomie, A. (1985). Context and learning. Hillsdale,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Barnhardt, R.(2010). Teaching/Learning across cultures: Strategiesfor success.Retrieved from Alaska Native Knowledge Networkwebsite:, B.M. & Johnson, E.S. (2005. Special programs & services inschools: Creating options, meeting needs. Lancaster, PA.Pro>Active Publications.Boyer, E. L. (1983). High school: A report on secondary education inAmerica. New York, NY: Harper & Row.Cantor, N. (1946/1972). Dynamics of learning. New York, NY:Agathon Press.Collis, B. (1999). Designing for difference: Cultural issues in thedesign www-based course support sites. British Journal ofEducational Technology,30(3), 201-217.De Cuir-Gunby, J. T., Taliaferro, J. D., & Greenfield, D. (2010).Educator‘s perspectives on culturally relevant programs foracademic success.Education and Urban Society, 42(2), 182-204.Gandara, P. (2010). The Latino education crisis. EducationalLeadership, 67(5), 24-30.Guild, P.B.(2001, October). Diversity, learning style and culture. NewHorizonsfor Learning.Retrieved
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