Theme 3: Preparing educators for diverse and inclusive communities of learners, including systematic exposure to heterogeneous populations
A series of demographic trends continues to alter the face of K-12 and post-secondary education nationally and in Maryland. Contemporary schools are more diverse and inclusive than ever before and will become more so in the future (Banks et al., 2005; Gollnick & Chinn, 2006; Maryland Higher Education Commission, 2004; MSDE Visionary Panel, 2002; NCTAF, 1996 & 2003). If we are to meet our professional imperative to teach all children effectively – an essential unit disposition - teachers and candidates “must be prepared to address the substantial diversity … that children bring with them to school, that is, the range of language, cultures, exceptionalities, learning styles, talents, and intelligence” (Darling-Hammond & Schon, 1996, p. 68), as well as gender issues that require, in turn, an equally rich and varied repertoire of teaching strategies (Banks & Banks, 2005; Darling-Hammond & Schon, 1996; Delpit, 1995; Gollnick & Chinn, 2006; Pritchy-Smith, 1998; Pugach, 2005).
If the benefits of diversity in higher education are to be realized, crucial attention must be given to the institutional context in which that diversity is enacted. As noted in Towson University’s Diversity Vision Statement, “ Towson University values diversity and fosters a climate that is grounded in respect and inclusion” (2004). Accordingly, the development and implementation of multicultural education across the University, as well as in the Professional Education unit, is an all-campus responsibility. It is not sufficient to simply bring together diverse and inclusive groups of students. While an “important first step in creating opportunities for students to learn from diversity, it can not be the only step that is taken.” The institution and the Unit must address curricula and “create additional opportunities and expectations for students to interact across racial and other social differences” (Chang, 2005, p. 11). In recognition that diversity initiatives have a significant impact “not only on student attitudes…toward intergroup relations on campus, but also on institutional satisfaction, involvement, and academic growth,” numerous policies and programs of the Maryland Higher Education, Commission, University System of Maryland, and Towson University illustrate the broad campus commitment to intentional institutional efforts that drive, reinforce and extend the Unit’s efforts (Towson University, 1998).
Numerous intentional university activities have been and continue to be undertaken to raise the faculty and university community’s awareness, knowledge, and commitment to diversity issues. For example, the Towson University Multicultural Institute (which includes numerous unit faculty as members) holds multiple events each year, including an annual Multicultural Institute for Towson faculty (e.g., March 2003, “What is Multiculturalism?”) and co-hosts, with the Baltimore County government, an annual Human Relations Commission Forum for faculty, students, and the community (e.g., November 2005, “Diversity: Education, Public Policy, and Employment”). Such intentional actions, as well as the specific focus on diversity brought to the campus since President Caret’s arrival, reiterate and demonstrate the University’s and unit’s commitment to diversity issues.
Towson University’s current president, Robert Caret, arrived in July 2003. In March 2004, he established a Diversity Task Force, which presented it's findings to the president and senior administration in June 2004. The report made specific recommendations to enhance the campus climate for all students, faculty, and staff ( Towson University, 2004). Guided by the University’s Diversity Vision Statement, a detailed Diversity Action Plan was developed. To provide dedicated leadership for these efforts, the President created a Diversity Coordinating Council, chaired by the Provost. In addition, a Diversity Advancement Committee has been established to focus on implementation and achievement of diversity goals. At the university level, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity oversees the University’s Diversity Action Plan and university policy and practices “to promote equal treatment, access and opportunity in all educational activities and employment decisions.”
The Diversity Committee, a standing committee in the College of Education, has as one of its primary goals to facilitate inclusion of issues related to diversity, enabling education faculty to integrate scholarship which reflects diversity and commonalities in a global society. Other goals include developing an annual plan that provides for faculty development activities and projects, revising curriculum, developing diversity-focused education courses, supporting interdepartmental collaboration, organizing unit professional development and conferences, and participation in other diversity-related campus events.
Specific results of their work include the development and 2001 implementation of a new General Education course, Teaching and Learning in a Diverse Society (required in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education), and the development and implementation of the Diversity Fellowship Program. Funded by the Dean of the College of Education, the Fellowship program was designed to deepen awareness among the diverse faculty participants of their own cultural values and belief systems that influence their interactions with others, and to strengthen the integration of diversity and social justice issues in teaching and research. Additionally, the Diversity Committee planned and sponsored two major events for students, faculty, and the metropolitan community – the May 2004 Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and the October 2005 Holocaust Commemoration.
Committed to the belief that diversity enriches professional education preparation by ensuring that different perspectives are represented on campus, that role models are available for all candidates, and that increasing knowledge and awareness of the issues surrounding a multicultural environment are crucial, the University and the unit strive for diversity in the composition of faculty, staff, and student body. This commitment has been reaffirmed in the 2004 Maryland State Plan for Postsecondary Education (MHEC, 2004), and again-specifically in Towson 2010: Mapping the Future (2004), which commits the university to initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, student body, and staff. Towson 2010 also commits to the goal of fostering a campus climate conducive to high achievement for all members of the university community regardless of race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, or other federal or state-protected categories.
A specific outcome of Towson 2010 was the 2004 establishment of the University’s Top Ten Percent Scholars program as a demonstration of the University’s commitment to enhance student diversity. This initiative offers scholarships and provides ongoing supports to students from Baltimore City and Baltimore County public high schools who completed a college preparatory curriculum and graduated in the top ten percent of their class .
With the specific intent of building a “grow your own” recruitment pipeline to increase the diversity of our candidates, the University and the unit have undertaken a much more significant and long-term engagement with the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). These efforts build on Towson 2010, the President’s and Provost’s public commitment to Towson’s role as a “premier, metropolitan institution” that will respond to the increasing educational needs of our region, particularly the critical educational needs of Baltimore City, and the Top Ten Percent Scholars Program. Since 2003, these initiatives have included the establishment of professional development schools as part of the BCPSS restructuring plan for the schools, partnering with three high schools to develop and implement Teacher Academies (a pathway to a “grow-your-own” pipeline of future teachers), and a major teacher professional development initiative. Also reflecting Theme 6, Collaboration, the unit is leading a multi-year, University-wide Cherry Hill Learning Zone Partnership, in collaboration with BCPSS, the Cherry Hill Ministerial Alliance, and the Baltimore City Mayor's Office, to improve simultaneously the Cherry Hill area’s schools and family, community, health, and economic quality of life.
Multicultural education is described as “an idea, an educational reform movement, and a process” designed to enable all students – regardless of their gender, social class, ethnic, racial and cultural characteristics, or disability/skill diversity – to “have an equal chance to achieve academically in school” (Banks & Banks, 2005, p.1) and to attain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to function effectively in a diverse nation and world (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 1997; Banks & Banks, 2005; Davidman & Davidman, 1997; Gollnick & Chinn, 2006; Hollins & Guzman, 2005; Howard, Cavanaugh, & Ernsberger, 2005; Pritchy-Smith, 1998). Infusing a multicultural perspective into education preparation programs, what Musil (2005) calls “the civic work of diversity” (p. 1), has been a major focus of professional literature and numerous national, state, and local education reform initiatives (from the AACTE Commission on Multicultural Education, 1972 [Lopez, 1979], to the 1996, 1997, and 2003 reports of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future), a permeating concern in the NCATE standards, and an ongoing goal of the unit. The research is clear on multicultural education:
Accordingly, professional education at Towson University emphasizes culturally responsive pedagogy, incorporates knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and encourages reflection on issues of diversity and inclusivity through general education and program-specific course requirements. Additionally, multiple and systematic, extensive and substantive field experiences in diverse and inclusive communities of learners are required for professional education candidates.
Present and future educators must acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to enhance the achievement of all students. Reaching this goal involves not only knowledge and skills, but also a professional conscience – the personal and professional awareness of diversity and commitment to implement multicultural education and eliminate disparities in educational opportunities among all students (Banks et al., 2005; Banks & Banks, 2005; Byrd & McIntyre, 1997; Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & Lepage, 2005; Cochran-Smith, 2005; MSDE Visionary Panel, 2002; Takaki, 1999). (Professional conscience is addressed in Theme 5.)
A culturally responsive and representative teaching force is necessary to meet the educational challenges of the new millennium. However, as student diversity in the state of Maryland (and the nation) is increasing, the pool from which educators come does not reflect the diversity of our schools (Boyer & Baptiste, 1996; Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2005; MSDE Teacher Staffing Report, 2005; Zumwult & Craig, 2005). This lack of diversity among candidates is an additional impetus for professional education at Towson University to be responsive and provide the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for initial and advanced level candidates to educate diverse and inclusive communities of learners successfully.