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Improving Results for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Research Connections
Fall 2000

Views From the Field


Professional Knowledge and Skills

What Every Special Educator Should Know: The International Standards for the Preparation and Licensure of Special Educators now includes eleven new common core items related to multicultural skills and competencies. The guide is available from The Council for Exceptional Children. Contact: CEC Constituent Services, 1-888-CEC-SPED.

The 1997 IDEA Amendments emphasized the need to increase the number of teachers and related service personnel from culturally and linguistically diverse groups. Efforts are underway to recruit new minority teachers and to increase the cultural competence of non-minority teachers.

Taking the Program to the Community

With OSEP support, the University of Northern Arizona (NAU) is partnering with the Kayenta Unified School District to prepare teachers. Referred to as RAISE (Reaching American Indian Special/Elementary Educators), the project prepares both Navajo and non-Navajo students to earn dual certification in special and elementary education. "The program focuses on preparing individuals to teach in impoverished rural and remote areas with culturally and linguistically diverse populations," Greg Prater, a professor at NAU tells us.

Most of the Navajo students are currently working as paraprofessionals or general educators with the district. Non-Navajo students live in Kayenta, which is a very remote community on the Navajo Nation. The district provides the non-Navajo students housing at no cost, and, in return, the university students work in the schools.In addition, Connie Heimbecker, a NAU faculty member, lives in Kayenta and teaches courses on site." You have the opportunity to learn more about the culture and the language," Heimbecker says. "By contextualizing the curriculum and student teaching experiences, you are able to incorporate more meaningful things into the coursework."

According to Prater, other districts have shown an interest in replicating the approach. He cautions, though, that it is more difficult to run such a program than a more traditional preservice training program on-campus. "You need to be sensitive to the needs of the community, and that requires someone on-site," Prater explains. "You also need to get used to not having university support services."

Building the Capacity of District Personnel

With OSEP support, the Tucson Unified School District is designing and implementing a plan to reduce disproportionality. According to Gail Bornfield, Director of Special Education for the district, the goal is to bring supports to children and instructional staff prior to referral. "The process is allowing us to look at high expectations for all children," Bornfield remarks. "Support is designed to assist our instructional staff in providing high quality instruction to all children."

Instructional staff have received training in cultural awareness. In addition, the district provides several levels of support, including:

  • Behavioral specialists. These certified professionals observe children in the classroom, prepare functional behavioral assessments, and work with teachers.

  • Social workers. These professionals work with families and, in some cases, develop behavioral plans for the home.

  • Instructional specialists. These professionals are assigned to the classroom and to individual children as needed. They are responsible for carrying out behavioral plans and monitoring interventions.

  • A member from the child's cultural background on the IEP team. The district is working toward this practice.

  • Teacher tips. These guides are written by staff and are available on the web or in print form. The tips offer practical ways to address culture through instruction.

  • Study area departments. Departments have been created for each of the following cultural and linguistic groups: African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American. The department provides specialists and tutors.

According to Bornfield, the district made a significant financial commitment to addressing disproportionality in this way. "Teams are expensive, yet critical. So too are the specialists," Bornfield explains. "However, when teachers see that specialists can be successful in their own classrooms, they have proof that children's behaviors can change and this results in more positive can-do attitudes."

Next: State Perspectives

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