The Wake County school system is hoping to boost student achievement by increasing efforts to train teachers, principals and assistant principals on how to relate better to families from all cultures.
Wake’s “cultural proficiency” training is designed to help the school system’s predominantly white workforce to understand the experiences of an increasingly diverse student population. It’s training that incorporates the idea that heterosexual white men in America benefit from a system of privilege and entitlement while other groups have been victims of systemic oppression.
“I don’t know if we dwell on the fact that different people come from different levels of oppression,” said Rodney Trice, Wake’s assistant superintendent for equity affairs. “Our focus is that when they come through the doors, we have high expectations for all students, regardless of whether they come from a high-poverty family or a nontraditional family.”
But Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the conservative John Locke Foundation, questioned whether Wake could find a better way than cultural proficiency training to help its teachers.
“I don’t know of any teacher that I’ve ever encountered who believed that some kids can’t learn,” said Stoops, a former teacher. “If there are teachers who have that belief, they should perhaps change their profession.”
North Carolina’s largest school system increased its focus on cultural proficiency when Trice was hired last year to run the new Office of Equity Affairs. Trice will discuss his plans for promoting equity at Saturday’s school board planning retreat.
Trice said gaining cultural proficiency is crucial at a time when Wake is increasingly enrolling more students who are not white, come from high-poverty backgrounds and are from nontraditional families. Last school year, 83.5 percent of Wake’s teachers were white compared to 48.6 percent of the student enrollment.
“Whatever skills and training we can provide for teachers to work in cross-cultural settings benefits our students,” Trice said.
The training is supposed to help ensure that teachers don’t have low expectations for students, while also making educators aware of how students’ culture may influence their actions. An example includes being sensitive to students who are adopted when discussing family trees.
During a training session on cultural proficiency last month, Trice had a group of assistant principals take part in a survey on “privilege and entitlement.” The survey is supposed to show how people respond differently, based on their ethnicity, on issues such as dealing with police, shopping, housing and dress.
“It’s not casting blame, but recognizing the inherent privilege that comes with being a heterosexual white man,” said school board member Monika Johnson-Hostler, who has praised the use of the survey and the cultural proficiency training.
The survey was part of a six-day training session that all of Wake’s principals and assistant principals are required to take as part of the district’s new Effective Teaching Framework. The training, which the principals and assistant principals are expected to share this fall with all 10,000 teachers, identifies strategies to make teachers more effective.
The training includes sessions on how to plan the curriculum and use different instructional strategies.
The final day of the training is on cultural proficiency. Principals and assistant principals have been required to read the widely used book “Cultural Proficiency: A Manual For School Leaders,” which tries to move people away from the belief that any culture is superior to another. Instead, it stresses the idea that embracing all cultures enhances everyone.
“What we’re trying to communicate is how important it is to know the lens through which these children in their classroom look, so that when you’re teaching you take into consideration those things,” Ruth Steidinger, Wake’s senior director of academic program and support, told the school board this week.