WPS Misses the Mark on Cultural Responsiveness

The Winthrop Public Schools (WPS) School Committee met on Monday, Jan 24, where it reviewed the results of a study that examined the cultural responsiveness of its K-11 curriculum.

The study was conducted by the NYU/Steinhardt Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Lori Gallivan, the Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Technology for WPS, presented the results.

Culturally responsive education (CRE) is education that celebrates students’ diverse cultures and identities through curriculum choices and teaching practices. It is education that validates students’ experiences, disrupts power dynamics, and empowers students.

Numerous studies have shown than CRE increases student performance, attendance, graduation rates and self-image.

The NYU study examines cultural responsiveness in three key areas: representation, social justice and teachers’ materials. Final scores are based on a continuum: culturally destructive, culturally insufficient, emerging awareness, culturally aware and culturally responsive.

Representation refers to how often students are exposed to diverse cultures in a positive way and engage with materials published by diverse contributors. The WPS curriculum ranged from culturally destructive to emerging awareness, with only a small portion falling into the category of culturally aware.

The majority of the curriculum was deemed culturally insufficient from a social justice perspective. This is a curriculum that centers the experience of the dominant culture and doesn’t encourage students to think critically or combat inequity. It is a curriculum that rarely reflects students’ lived experiences.

The majority of K-8 teachers’ materials were judged to be culturally destructive. This means that there is no guidance for engaging diverse learners, reflecting on personal biases, or connecting lessons to students’ lives.

WPS will be discussing the results with all teachers. Teachers will have the opportunity to identify materials that will improve their cultural responsiveness. New curriculum materials will be judged based on the criteria presented in the study. Professional development opportunities will also demonstrate what culturally responsive instruction looks like.

“We’re learning from this where we can make changes,” said Gallivan.

“This data is helping us determine where we can step it up,” said Supt. Lisa Howard.

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