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Legislative Bill calls for culturally competent teachers

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Classrooms continue to evolve, yet lawmakers believe teacher/student relationships are at a standstill and possibly regressing. In schools where growing minority populations are taught by predominantly white teachers among other issues, educational advocates are calling for cultural competency training.

State Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis and chair of the House Education Committee is proposing House Bill 1187 (HB1187) to the Indiana State Legislature.

The bill would require the department of education to develop standards for cultural competency teacher training. It would also require school corporations and accredited nonpublic schools to develop policies concerning cultural competency training for school staff and students.

There have been measures put in place to raise educational standards both on the state and federal level such as Zero Tolerance and No Child Left Behind but Porter believes there are still missing links in the completion of those raised standards.

Issues such as the growing Hispanic population, changes in community and family dynamics and the high expulsion and drop out rate are some of the disparities linked to the necessity of cultural training — there has been a burgeoning disconnect between the student and teacher.

“Our kids have to do more in life, but how do we help them get there? It’s not about just teaching them, but helping students that are going to Indiana University or Ball State University, the schools of education, to understand the students they’re going to have to teach,” said Porter.

Cultural competency training will be another mechanism, a tool to help a teacher reach a higher level with a student. This bill is not meant to change the educator but to amplify their sensitivity.

If passed, HB1187 will require cultural competency training to begin at the university level in schools of education. Existing teachers will be required to adhere to the current cultural competency standards through Indiana school improvement plans.

Furthermore, HB1187 would provide uniformity to Hoosier teacher/student relationships.

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), one of the state’s largest urban school districts, has a policy with ideals that “promote and foster intergroup understanding, awareness and appreciation by students and staff of the diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, and linguistic groups represented in the Indianapolis Public Schools, the United States and the world” among others.

That policy aims to be in the best interest of the student and uplift the diversity among learners but Patricia Payne, director of the IPS Office of Multicultural Education for IPS, believes Indiana teachers are still missing the mark.

“They think poverty and illiteracy are synonymous and that’s the way they teach our children. They don’t understand the brilliance that poor children bring to the classroom with them,” said Payne in a previous interview with the Recorder on cultural competency. “They’re so busy making assumptions about the conditions of our children, they’re not teaching them because they don’t think they can learn in the first place.”

While there are many proponents of the bill, there have been several snags in getting HB1187 passed. Some legislators are fighting to push their own agendas or choose not to understand the importance of HB1187. There have also been questions of what exactly cultural competency means and what concrete steps education majors will take in college in learning how to educate the modern student.

Though there are testing mechanisms for current teachers to measure cultural competency, Porter is also facing the challenge of ways to hold school systems and teachers accountable. He does believe, however, the proof of success will lie in steady improvement of graduation rates and how effective Indiana teachers become.

As Indiana’s youth population becomes more diverse, learning gaps continue to widen among races. Advocates of cultural competency among educators hope HB1187 is a step in the right direction for Indiana’s youth.

At Recorder press time, HB1187 has been shelved. This is also Porter’s second attempt to get a cultural competency bill passed in the legislature.

For more information, call (800) 382-9842, (317) 232-9600 or visit www.in.gov/legislative.

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