Standing at the Crossroads: Multicultural Teacher Education at the Beginning of the 21st Century

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    Standing at the Crossroads: Multicultural TeacherEducation at the Beginning of the 21st CenturyMarilyn Cochran-SmithPublished online: 14 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: Marilyn Cochran-Smith (2003) Standing at the Crossroads: Multicultural Teacher Education at theBeginning of the 21st Century, Multicultural Perspectives, 5:3, 3-11, DOI: 10.1207/S15327892MCP0503_02

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  • Standing at the Crossroads: Multicultural Teacher Education at theBeginning of the 21st Century

    Marilyn Cochran-SmithLynch School of EducationBoston College

    Three decades ago, in 1972, the first of severalCommissions on Multicultural Education sponsoredby the American Association of Colleges for TeacherEducation (AACTE) made three key assertions: (a)cultural diversity is a valuable resource; (b) multicul-tural education is education that preserves and ex-tends the resource of cultural diversity rather thanmerely tolerating it or making it melt away; and(c) a commitment to cultural pluralism ought to per-meate all aspects of teacher preparation programs inthis country (Baptiste & Baptiste, 1980). In 1976, theNational Council for the Accreditation of TeacherEducation (NCATE) added multicultural education toits standards, requiring that institutions seeking ac-creditation show evidence that multicultural educationwas planned for (by 1979) and then provided (by1981) in all programs of teacher preparation(Gollnick, 1992). Despite the fact that most teachereducation programs now report that they have incor-porated multicultural perspectives and content intothe curriculum, external examinations often prove tothe contrary (Gollnick, 1995), and critics consistentlyconclude that nothing much has really changed(Grant & Secada, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1995;Zeichner & Hoeft, 1996). In addition, as Jenks, Lee,and Kanpol (2001) have pointed out, a conservativemulticulturalism, which focuses on assimilation andpreparing minorities for economic competition in themainstream, now dominates the political landscape

    and makes the beginning of the 21st century a par-ticularly challenging time in the history of multicul-tural teacher education.

    This article goes beyond suggesting that this is achallenging time, however. This article argues that inthe early years of the 21st century, multiculturalteacher education stands at a crossroads. If the pro-fession is to move toward teacher education that isboth multicultural and critical, we will need morethan the efforts of individual teacher educators whourge prospective teachers to rethink their own beliefsand attitudes about difference, privilege, diversity,and culture (although efforts of this kind are surelyimportant). We will also need sharp awareness andtrenchant critique of competing political agendasthatalthough using much of the same language ofequity, pluralism, and leaving no child be-hindnonetheless advocate teacher education pro-grams, policies, and entry pathways that arestrikingly different from one another. In the finalanalysis, these competing agendas and policies forteacher education will have dramatically differentoutcomes for educational access, distribution of re-sources, and the life chances of school children whoare differently positioned from one another in termsof socioeconomic status, culture, language back-ground, and race. In the pages that follow, this arti-cle argues that three situations have the most bearingon how and where we stand at the crossroads formulticultural teacher education at the beginning ofthe 21st century: the changing demographic profile ofthe nations students and teachers, competing andhighly politicized agendas for the reform of teacher

    Multicultural Perspectives


    Multicultural Perspectives, 5(3), 311Copyright 2003 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

    Requests for reprints should be sent to Marilyn Cochran-Smith,Lynch School of Education, Campion Hall 113, Boston College,Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. E-mail:




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  • education, and devastating challenges to the researchbase that purportedly supports university-basedteacher preparation. Despite these serious challenges,the article concludes with a brief discussion of prom-ising developments and a renewed call to action fora teacher education that is multicultural and critical.

    The Demographic Imperative

    The phrase the demographic imperative (Banks,1995; Dilworth, 1992) has been used to draw theconclusionboth essential and inescapablethat theeducational community must take action to alter thedisparities deeply embedded in the American educa-tional system. Documented and disseminated over anumber of years, evidence for the demographic im-perative includes statistics and other information inthree areasthe diverse student population, the ho-mogeneous teaching force, and the demographic di-vide (Gay & Howard, 2000; Hodgkinson, 2001,2002), or the marked disparities in educational oppor-tunities, resources and achievement among studentgroups that differ from one another racially, cultur-ally, linguistically, and socioeconomically.

    Drawing on information collected for Census 2000,noted educational demographer Harold Hodgkinson(2001) pointed out that although some 40% of theschool population is now from racially and culturally di-verse groups, this varies dramatically (from 7% to 68%),depending on the state. Hodgkinson (2002) explains an-ticipated demographic changes:

    Future population growth in the United States continues tobe uneven61% of the population increase in the next 20years will be Hispanic and Asian, about 40% Hispanic and20% Asian; but then, as now, 10 states will contain 90% ofthe Hispanic population, 10 will contain 90% of the Asianpopulation, and 7 will do both. Half of all Mexican Ameri-cans live in California! In fact, most of this increased di-versity will be absorbed by only about 300 of our 3,000[U.S.] counties.

    If we look at what changes America, it is 1 million im-migrants a year, 4 million births, 2 million deaths, and 43million people moving each year. Transience is a majorfactor in crime rates, poor health care, and poor-perform-ing schools and states The worst performing states interms of the percentage of 19-year-olds who have bothgraduated from high school and been admitted to a college also are the states with the most transience and thehighest crime rates. (pp. 103104)

    If projections are accurate, children of color will consti-tute the statistical majority of the student population by2035 and account for 57% by 2050 (U.S. Department ofCommerce, 1996; Villegas & Lucas, 2002a).

    Meanwhile, due in part to declining enrollmentsamong Asian, Black, and Hispanic students in teachereducation programs with a proportionate increase in en-rollments in business majors, the teaching force is be-coming increasingly White European American(Hodgkinson, 2002). The most recent information avail-able on the nations teaching force suggests a profilethat is quite different from the student profile, withWhite teachers currently accounting for some 86% ofthe teaching force and teachers of color collectively ac-counting for only 14% (National Center for EducationStatistics, 1997). This pattern reflects a modest increasein the percentage of minority teachers since a low pointof only 7% in 1986. Information about who is currentlypreparing to teach indicates a pattern that is generallysimilar to that of the current teaching force (AmericanAssociation of Colleges for Teacher Education[AACTE], 1997, 1999; Dilworth, 1992; Howey, Arends,Galluzzo, Yarger, & Zimpher, 1994) with White stu-dents representing the vast majority (80%93%) of stu-dents enrolled in collegiate educat