Almost 70 percent of children in Head Start and the majority of children in the 25 largest U. S. school districts are culturally, racially and linguistically diverse children. Yet the early childhood teaching workforce remains predominantly white and monolingual. Research shows these teachers have little knowledge of the cultures, communities, and families of the children in their classrooms, while teachers report that they feel unprepared to teach effectively in multicultural and multilingual classrooms.

Erikson is working to change that with a new statewide initiative to target the developmental and educational needs of culturally, racially, and linguistically marginalized children within the teacher preparation process in Illinois. With a $480,000, two-year grant from the McCormick Foundation, Professors Barbara T. Bowman and Aisha Ray will lead efforts to improve teacher standards, teacher certification, and teacher preparation programs so that they explicitly address the specific developmental and educational needs of culturally diverse children, including children in poverty.

Children bring to the classroom values, language, identity, and behavioral norms shaped by everyday cultural practices in their homes and communities. Research suggests that the cultural repertoires of racially, culturally and economically marginalized children may be misunderstood, even punished by teachers and schools expecting children to conform to a mainstream cultural model. Children struggling to overcome a “culture gap” may also struggle to learn—or disengage from school at a very early age. This project will

  • explore the extent to which associate and bachelor degree early childhood teacher education programs in Illinois address the educational and developmental needs of children marginalized by race, culture, language, or poverty;
  • build consensus about the knowledge, practical skills, dispositions, and reflective capacities teachers must master to work effectively with culturally diverse children and their families; and
  • work with stakeholders to develop recommendations for amending Illinois state early childhood teacher standards and certification requirements.

“In order to address the rapidly changing landscape of our country now reflected in the demographics of our schools, higher education must re-examine the way it prepares teachers. They must be ready to teach in global classrooms, where they will need to meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students and neighborhoods,” said Erica Okezie-Phillips, program officer at the McCormick Foundation. “This project will take an important step in fostering this dialogue at the state, district and policy levels.”

In its first two years, the project will focus specifically on the needs of African American children because they represent one of the largest groups among children of color in early childhood programs and they are seriously affected by the educational achievement gap. In future work the project will explore the needs of other groups such as Mexican American, Mexican immigrant, and Chinese immigrant children.