Culturally Responsive Key To College Access For Minorities

Culturally responsive education is a broad-based school-wide approach that seeks linguistic and socio-cultural congruence of the native student population in all aspects of the school program, but particularly in classroom instruction (Yap, 2004). Culturally responsive education “validates, facilitates, liberates, and empowers ethnically diverse students by simultaneously cultivating their cultural integrity, individual abilities, and academic success” (Gay, 2010, p. 46). Furthermore, culturally responsive education and teaching are built on four foundational pillars of practice that Gay (2010) defines as: (1) teacher attitudes and expectations, (2) cultural communication in the classroom, (3) culturally diverse content in the classroom, and (4) culturally congruent instructional strategies. Ideally, utilizing this type of education reform will support the student at the elementary and secondary levels, and further assist students and their families in pursuing postsecondary education through better realizing education, and the continuation thereof, as a culturally appropriate imperative.

The influx of culturally diverse students, in secondary education, has not transferred into higher education (Speck & Keahiolalo-Karasuda, 2011). Although access to institutions of higher education, in the form of enrollments, has increased in the US over the past 20 years, the percentage of students enrolling from low income and underrepresented minority populations is disturbingly small (Engberg & Allen, 2011; Akerhielm et al., 1998). Achieving the goal of increased minority representation in higher education remains a formidable challenge, given the wide disparities among racial and ethnic minority and low-income students. These disparities fuel the reproduction of social inequality, and the resultant talent loss that translates into social and economic losses at the societal and economic levels (Engberg & Allen, 2011).

Klump and McNeir (2005) support the holistic approach of culturally responsive education and build upon Gay’s (2002) approach to culturally responsive education when they note that culturally responsive teaching recognizes, respects, and uses students’ identities and backgrounds as a significant source for creating optimal learning environments. Being culturally responsive means having high expectations for students and ensuring that these expectations are realized. Gay (2010) further contends that educational — and more specifically, instructional — reforms are needed that are grounded in positive beliefs and attitudes about the cultural heritage of students and their academic potential. If educational reform and policy changes continue to ignore these cultural orientations and values, cultural hegemony, educational inequity, and academic underachievement will continue to exist (Gay, 2010).

Cultural compatibility theory is one of the most frequently encountered frameworks when presenting studies of culturally responsive education (Demmert & Towner, 2003). Cultural compatibility theory posits the idea that continuities or discontinuities between a child’s culture and the culture of the school can affect the quality of learning that takes place in school. The point of cultural compatibility is that the home culture is used as a guide in the selection of educational program elements so that academically desired behaviors are produced and undesired behaviors are avoided (Jordan, 1985).

The cultural compatibility hypothesis suggests that when the values and expectations of the classroom are congruent with those of the students it serves, student participation increases and learning is enhanced (Yamauchi & Tharp, 1995). The cultural compatibility perspective emphasizes cultural differences rather than cultural deficits and suggests changing the structures of schools to fit the culture of the students better. An idea central to cultural compatibility theory is the principle of congruence — the belief that when values and expectations of the classroom are harmonious with those of the school community, student participation and learning improves (Demmert, 2005; Yamauchi, 1998). When a child is immersed in an educational environment that is culturally compatible with the values of the community, learning prospects are improved. Native American educational leaders have called for culturally compatible practices in their classrooms, acknowledging the necessity of comprehensive ranging reforms in educational policy and practices, incorporating Native American community language, knowledge, values, and teaching styles into schooling (Yamauchi & Tharp, 1995).

Whaley and Noel (2012) review the cultural compatibility perspective with African American adolescents. In this review, cultural compatibility theory considers cultural identification among African American youth and their academic pursuits as mutually reinforcing components of their identity. Positive identification with Black culture provides African American youth with a framework for understanding the role of academics in their lives (Whaley & Noel, 2012). From this perspective, a strong cultural identity among African American youth encourages academic success. Similar views are seen relative to indigenous populations. When indigenous students are encouraged to assimilate to traditional public school norms, the results are the weakening of native cultures and languages, the marginalization of native identities, and an increase in dropout rates (Lipka, 2002). Leaving local knowledge and language at the schoolhouse door results in students failing to attain success in academic contents, while at the same time losing knowledge of their indigenous languages and cultures (Lipka, 2002).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self. Having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown it is linked to better well-being, less stress and delinquency, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your school community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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