Transcription of the episode “David Kirkland on New York’s State’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework”

Jon M: 00:15 I’m Jon Moscow.

Amy H-L: 00:16 And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools where we discuss strategies for creating inclusive and equitable schools and youth programs that help students to develop both commitment and capacity to build ethical institutions.

Jon M: 00:29 Our guest today is Dr. David E. Kirkland, Executive Director of the NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. Dr. Kirkland taught middle school and high school in Michigan and organized youth empowerment and mentoring programs in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York. He’s a trustee for the Research Foundation of the National Council of Teachers of English and the author of five books, including “A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Black Males.” He’s co-author of “Students’ Right to Their Own Language.” David Kirkland has been named by Ebony Magazine as one of the most brilliant scholars in the US. Welcome, David.

David K: 01:07 Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Amy H-L: 01:09 David, we especially would like to talk today about the New York State Education Department’s Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education Framework, known for short as CRS Framework. Listeners, the framework is posted on our website, David, you’ve called the development of the framework likely one of the most important steps in New York State education history. What is the framework and why is it so important?

David K: 01:38 Oh, thank you again and let me talk a little bit about the framework and what the framework grows out of before I talk about the framework itself. If you look across New York City, if you look across New York State, if you look across the United States, you see systems of disparity that articulate the conditions of schools. In a sense, we have a tale of two schools. We have schooling for the privileged and we also have schooling for the vulnerable. We have a system that serves some young people and we have a system that does not serve other young people and the students that it serves and does not serve gets articulated along lines of race, class, gender in some cases, and other factors that are related to identity and culture. And in some ways we know that if a student goes to a school and they enjoy a culturally responsive education, that that student will do well in that school. That means that that student has an opportunity to learn in a language that reflects the language that’s spoken at home, that that student has an opportunity to read books by authors that look like them, read content that has experiences like them, do story problems that come from experiences that live where they live. In this way we know that culture is an essential, not an optional part of education. We also know that culture is fundamental to the divisions that we see in education in the sense that we have valued or perhaps overvalued some cultures while devaluing and stigmatizing others. What New York State Education Department did in 2018 was have a hard conversation, a difficult conversation about how to address what seemed to be the chronic and static problems of inequity that defined themselves along the lines of predictable categories, social patterns. But the problem wasn’t just putting more money into the system. It wasn’t about making kids take more tests. It wasn’t about ensuring that Black and Brown and poor and otherwise vulnerable students only had access to the culture of power, if you will. What New York State Education Department said is that we need to do better and they concluded that the babies aren’t broken, that perhaps the systems are, and that if we are going to be responsive to the needs of our young people, we need to delve into the research. We need to delve into the science. And so the Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework began with the lit review. It began with some type of survey of the science around the question of culture as it relates to education. And the proposition was simple. What do we know about transforming systems in order to be more responsive to these individuals, in order to be more responsive to students across lines of culture and language and socioeconomic status, across lines of geography in ways that we have not? Doing the research and doing the work, we recognized that systems of education were not designed necessarily to be responsive to all students. So the first acknowledgement is that the system is not only broken, that it’s ill designed if it is to provide education to all young people, right? We have a system that was constructed in design for some students and those students succeed in this system and we have a system that was not designed or constructed for other young people. And these are the students that we fail, right? These are the students that do not succeed. And so we began reading the literature around culturally relevant education. Shout out to Gloria Ladson Billings and culturally responsive education. Shout out to Geneva Gay, who coined that term. And we said, what else is out there?

Jon M: 05:37 When you say we, what role did the Metro Center play?

David K: 05:40 I’m talking about the Metropolitan Center, you know, my Center, and I’m also talking about the coalition of the New York City Education Department. It was, it was truly a community project, but to continue the story in terms of how this was developed, we began to look at on the research around, the other research that came out around 2012 Django Paris writes this piece called culturally sustaining education, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and in this piece, he begins to critique, right, the direction or the focus on culturally responsive education. His argument is it’s one thing that would be responsive but it’s another thing for that response to sustain the cultures that these students come from because generally culturally responsive education has been implemented in schools implemented in systems in order to assimilate students to some type of culture of power, right? Typically the culture of a dominant culture. And so the State, in conversation with NYU Metro Center, decided that it was two projects that it would take up. One is how can we be more culturally responsive? How can we create systems and environments that are more, that are culturally responsive to students? But also, how can we create systems that are also sustaining, that will sustain the cultures, the languages, the values, the homes, the principles by which these individuals are born into? And that’s how the Culturally Responsive Education Framework came into being. It came into being trying to resolve a problem that articulated itself in a new way. What if it’s not the students who are failing? What if it’s the system that’s failing ? And the framework that you see is the State’s response to that question.

Jon M: 07:31 What are the four principles that the framework is grounded in?

David K: 07:35 Well, the four principles are taken from work that NYU Metro Center did with Buffalo school district around its equity plan. And I’ll summarize what these four principles are because you see principles become tenets of culturally responsive education, right? Welcoming and affirming environments, right, the idea that you belong, the idea that equity includes this idea of belonging. So when you go into a school space, the school space has been structured to make you feel welcome and warm. The environment is non-hostile but instead is restorative and regenerative to the bodies that occupy it. The idea of high standards and rigor in education becomes another principle of a culturally responsive, sustaining framework. Not only does the framework set high expectations. It’s one thing to set high expectations, it’s another thing to set high expectations and then construct ladders, ladders that are firm, stable so that students can climb to reach or even exceed those expectations. Another principle is teacher development or system-wide professional development. Part of that development is shifting mindsets, policies and practices in ways that promote like this healthy relationship between practitioners and the individuals who they encounter in schools. It’s about relationships, right? It’s about developing competencies, competencies that are necessary to teach people who come from situations and environments that may be different than ours. These principles are the principles that in some ways facilitate and construct culture, the culturally responsive education framework. But there are two pillars that are more important than the four grounding or guiding principles that are articulated in the framework. One is socio-political awareness, the idea that we are aware and should be aware that education is not politically innocent, that when you enter into a classroom, you enter into a contested space where the implications of power play out daily. When in our students, our young people, our children are sometimes left as casualties of this great contest, this tug. The other is socio-cultural responsiveness, the idea that we have an obligation in education to root education in the lives of our young people that we cannot ask why are they not learning the things that we are not teaching, that the other question is more important. How do we teach in the ways that they learn? How do we become responsive to who they are as individuals and construct, design and redesign, and revise whenever necessary the education construct, the education product, in ways that are most responsive to our young people. That’s the basis. That’s the foundation of the framework.

Amy H-L: 10:43 David, thank you for that. The guidelines call for development of students who have a critical lens through which they challenge inequitable systems of access, power and privilege. As a Deweyan, that’s the part that most excites me. What does that look like in practice?

David K: 11:03 I’m glad that you raised the specter of Dewey because I think we’ve gotten away from it, right? We talk about two feeds of education. We talk about career and college readiness, education as this site to train workers or to train or to prepare elites, to stratify us into this space. Rarely do we talk about democracy anymore. Rarely do we talk about citizenship. Rarely do we talk about the third C and that is civic writing. What does it mean to participate in a multicultural democracy and then expanding towards what Tom Friedman called a flat global world, where students’ hands touch, where difference becomes the norm, but it should not be characterized as a deficit. It’s something to celebrate, to embrace, something that makes us better, richer, right? And what is the role of schooling in ensuring that individuals who leave our classrooms leave with this ability to see in grand ways and broader ways, to touch each other? And what does this type of civic goal of education, what does it have to do with the holistic development of young people? How does training young people to be engaged, aware, responsible, how does that help them to create environments and worlds that are far different than ours? How does that help them to become the types of critical thinkers that are necessary to solve tomorrow’s problems today? And an American computer scientist, Alan Kay probably put it best. He said the best way to predict the future is to invent it. What is the role of our schools in preparing those inventors, those inventors who will make tomorrow? We’re plagued by issues of inequity. We’re plagued by issues of social intolerance, white supremacy, and anti-Black and Brown racism. We hear xenophobic soundbites being spewed across our airways. We’re in a political tango. Polarization has become so standard in our country that we don’t broadcast anymore. Everything is about narrow casting, right? What is the role of the school of schooling and preparing our young people to take on these monumental challenges that have set us apart? And I believe as schools begin to confront, take on this third C, which I believe is the bigger C, but not only does it create and prepare young people who are far more intellectual than our president. It also creates this relationship between what education can do, not only to develop the child, but what education can do in developing young people to develop a world. That relationship is a relationship that sometimes gets missed.

Jon M: 14:08 So what happens next? The Framework is, I was going to say a pretty radical document, but I’ll say a very radical document.

David K: 14:17 It’s not necessarily radical. We know in other industries the transformation of other industries have used culturally responsive and culturally relevant science in order to get better results. What it is is an accurate document. You know, it gets us closer to actually doing education in a way that we should do education. If you think about marketing, marketing, in some ways was revolutionized when they understood that, that you can’t present products in sales and expect those products to sell across social differences. If you only use one model, right? If you’re selling a product to women, you’ve got to use a different form of message. You’re gonna use different categories and situations than you would, you know, if that product was being sold to men. The same thing if you’re selling product to children, you’ve got to use different messaging, different frames if that product is being sold to adults. In medicine, doctors and physicians and researchers began to understand that they can’t treat all patients as white men, that they needed to begin to consider and take into account factors such as our differences, our legitimate differences, which are not deficits, that these things were important. You know, we began to make revolutions in medical science, right? That the accurate piece, the accurate understanding, right, understanding the peculiars of a situation are important to education and education work that different individuals who had been constructed based on different social circumstances, who come from different histories, who learn in different ways and that we need to attune, we need to [inaudible] the educational organization, the educational-industrial complex if you will, to be most responsive to those differences, not necessarily radical but in some ways intellectually genius.

Jon M: 16:24 Absolutely. I was using “radical” in the sense of getting to the root or as you’re pointing out. And I think I’d seen something similar to what you were just saying in comments you’d made and it just struck me as very, very profound in terms of how the education systems haven’t adopted many of the mechanisms that other sectors of society have. So the question I have is in terms of how most schools, not all, but how most schools function now and the mindsets that are built into many of our existing schools, what needs to happen in terms of how State Ed can implement this framework statewide? What kind of changes do they have to lead in schools? What does this mean in terms of funding, in terms of professional development, in terms of assessment of schools? What would it take? What will it take, being very positive about it, what will it take for State Ed and the new education commissioner, whoever she or he may be, to make this a day to day reality in schools across the state?

David K: 17:30 That’s a beautiful question and it’s the right question to ask. Let me just say this. I hope that the new State Ed Department takes this on. As you rightly point out, there will be a new commissioner of New York State Ed. There will also be a new deputy commissioner. The architect or visionary for culturally responsive sustaining education framework, Angélica Infante-Green, is now the head of the Rhode Island State school district, and other individuals, Yvette Colon is no longer with or will no longer be with the State Department. And so in order to implement the vision of culturally sustaining, responsive and sustaining education framework, you know, it’s going to be entrusted in the hands of others, right. And that the State is going to have to step up and put resources and support packages behind this effort and that’s going to define its success. What needs to happen I think has begun and that is an articulation by the State of what’s necessary in order to educate across difference. The alignment of services, the alignment of policy, as well as a commitment to articulating how the State Ed Department values and understands education, I think has been, you know, crucial. You’ll see in the coming months what the State Ed Department is going to roll out. My hope is that there’ll be a set of technical documents, that greater development will happen, not just with teachers and school leaders, but also with students and parents, that there will be more alignment across agencies, the State Ed Department as well as Local Education Agencies, and that this document can become the framing document to centralize a type of conversation around the provision of education services. But we will see what happens. There is a lot of support that needs to happen. There is a lot of development that needs to happen. The hope is that this document can be the center of gravity for a lot of movement that will follow.

Jon M: 19:39 Are there ways that you see that individuals, our listeners, basically, who are teachers, administrators, parents, students, community members, are there things that members of the community at large can do in the next few months to help make sure that this gets followed through and that becomes a reality at district levels and school levels and statewide?

David K: 20:04 Yeah, I do. That’s a great question. I think it’s up to us to hold the State accountable.The State says that culture matters when it comes to education. Now we have to hold the State accountable to, you know, its investment in creating the type of systems of support that are necessary in order to educate young people across difference. That’s what this document says. The documents says that New York State is committed to creating the necessary investment in order for those who provide education to do it in ways that are consistent with the best science in education, which centers culture in that conversation. And so it’s going to be up to us as community members, up to us as you know, intellectuals, up to us as people who are interested in the improvement of education across New York State to hold the State accountable. And we do that by reminding the State of its commitment, the commitment that it’s articulated through the Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework. And so we have a lot of work to do. Let me just say this, here in New York City, New York City, you know, has articulated and it seems to, it will take up a culturally responsive sustaining definition to guide its own work. So we do see that the Culturally Responsive Sustainable Education Framework has already, it’s had some impact in New York City around the education conversation here. There is a robust definition, right now that’s being reviewed and responded to by the public in New York City, that should be adopted pretty soon, that’s consistent with the definition of the State and it’s that type of alignment that I do think that the framework allows for and that allows community members to say “hey” to their local districts as well as to the State at large, “you said that this is the commitment and we’re going to hold you accountable to it.”

Amy H-L: 22:01 David, how’s this being publicized? How will communities even know about it and know to support it?

David K: 22:07 Well, I mean you would have to talk to somebody from the State on that question, in terms of its publicity, I know that I received an email from the State because I’m on the State email list, when the Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education Framework was finalized and it became official state policy. It is up on the State website. The State does have some good language as well as a pretty significant web presence, has built a pretty significant web presence around the Framework. In terms of other plans that it has to publicize the Framework, those have not been told to me. I hope that the State does have a plan to continue to publicize the Framework, not only among its educational constituency, but also among various communities throughout New York State at large.

Amy H-L: 23:02 Right, and clearly that’s what we’re doing today. Thank you so much. Is there anything you’d like to add?

David K: 23:11 No. No. Thank you. Thank you all for raising attention to this work. I think that you know, this work is the work, right? We talk about transforming education. Rarely do we talk about what’s needed, what’s necessary. We typically say that schools are broken and do the same things that we did and nothing ever changes. The hope is that this document can lead to some transformation for some of our students. It’s probably not a perfect document. No document is, but I do believe that it’s a step in the right direction.

Jon M: 23:42 I also want to thank you, David Kirkland, for joining us and thank you, listeners, for joining us. You can check out our podcast episodes and articles on our website, and as Amy said, we’re also posting the state ed document, the framework. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Till next week.

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