Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cultural Competence Redux

From my column this month in BrainstormNW Magazine:

Perhaps you followed the controversy raging over the subject of my column last month – the Governor-sponsored bill that would force teachers to meet “cultural competency standards” in order to get a teaching license.

The bill, Senate Bill 50, slipped quietly through a gullible Senate with almost no opposition. When it got to the House Education Committee, Chair Linda Flores shined some light on the bill, and boy did the cockroaches scatter.

Flores’ chief of staff, Dave Mowry, did a little digging to find just what the educrats have planned for making Oregon’s teachers “culturally competent.” Mowry found a paper trail several feet deep – entire books written on the subject, essays, web sites, and the now infamous “Oregon Cultural Competency Summit Proceedings.”

State Superintendent Susan Castillo convened the invitation-only Summit last May, where a hundred or so mostly public employees schemed about five year plans to bring cultural competency to Oregon schoolchildren. The Summit decided that cultural competence was far more than just being able to teach children from difference ethnic backgrounds.

Rather, they said, “cultural competence is based on a commitment to social justice and equity,” and requires that teachers “have a defined set of values and principles, demonstrated behaviors, attitudes …” They went on to say that cultural competence “involves actively challenging the status quo and advocating for social justice and equity.”

In other words, if you want a license to teach in Oregon, you better pass the ideological litmus test. You better have the officially approved values and attitudes, and you better be ready to advocate for the correct political issues.

Rep. Flores and Dave Mowry wondered whether it was constitutional to require teachers to be advocates for a political viewpoint in order to get a teachers license. They asked Legislative Counsel, who said that to do so would violate the free speech guarantees in Oregon’s constitution.

Flores promised that the bill would never see the light of day in her committee. No matter, said Vicki Chamberlain, Executive Director of the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, which would develop the cultural competency standards. "The commission has made it a personal goal of ours to begin work on cultural competency standards,'' Chamberlain said. "We don't need legislation to pursue those goals.”

In other words: “We don’t need no stinking legislation to shove cultural competency down the throat of the schools. Go ahead, kill the bill. We’ll do it anyway. Try and stop us.” Such is the arrogance of our public servants.

Susan Castillo, for her part, beat a clumsy retreat. She baldly denied what the Summit so plainly stated. As reported in the Oregonian: “[Castillo] said the group never intended to require teachers to take a position on social justice. Their aim, she said, is to make sure all teachers have the skills they need to feel comfortable reaching out to all students, no matter what their language, culture, economic level or other background.”

Wait a minute Susan, not so fast! Your Summit explicitly rejected this definition of cultural competence, and explicitly inserted the language about social justice and advocacy. If she had any qualms about it, she sure didn’t speak up at the time. Only now, after the scheming is exposed to the ridicule it so richly deserves does she try to run away from the language she clearly supported at the time.

There’s a word for Castillo’s explanation. It’s called lying. She got caught, and she’s trying to lie her way out of it. Sure, the Oregonian let her get away with it (the reporter, Besty Hammond, neglected to point out the obvious falsehood.) But here at BrainstormNW we aren’t so polite.
Castillo and Chamberlain implied that when the actual standards are written, they won’t include anything about social justice or advocacy. They say that the definition of cultural competence at the Summit was just the consensus of a few attendees, and won’t find its way into the standards.
"I agree absolutely, you can't make it part of the rules to advocate," Castillo told the Oregonian. "That is not our proposal."

But they have a problem. The state already adopted cultural competency standards for administrators, and the standards include specific reference to both social justice and advocacy. Yep, right there in plain sight: OAR 584-017-0251 (6)(a)(G): "… the role of the school in promoting social justice," and OAR 584-017-0251 (6)(c)(A)… in advocating for adoption of improved policies and laws.

What is going on here, anyway? Did I miss the public outcry for cultural competency standards? Have they already eliminated dropouts, reading failure, and the achievement gap? Is there so much spare money lying around they can use it for pointless summits and re-tooled licensure standards?

While the educrats pursue their social engineering schemes, frustration grows with the lack of progress on the real problems facing the public schools. One of those problems, perhaps the biggest: the educrats themselves.

1 comment:

J. E. Stone said...

"Rep. Flores and Dave Mowry wondered whether it was constitutional to require teachers to be advocates for a political viewpoint in order to get a teachers license. They asked Legislative Counsel, who said that to do so would violate the free speech guarantees in Oregon’s constitution."

This is an excellent question and should be asked of the NCATE "disposition" standards adopted by many colleges of education. Are the graduates of publicly funded teacher training programs being required to adopt a political viewpoint as a condition for using a state funded program? It would certainly be interesting to see how this question applies to Oregon's teacher training programs.

J.E. Stone