February 21, 2019
Chiefs Call for High-Quality Instructional Materials that Reflect Student Diversity

New report from Chiefs for Change says many schools celebrate Black History Month but don’t take a culturally relevant approach to teaching and learning throughout the rest of the year

All too often, textbooks and instructional materials do not honor or reflect the diversity of America’s students. In Baltimore, an audit found textbooks overwhelmingly reinforced racial bias, police brutality, and incarceration. In Palm Beach County, Florida, publishers submitted a sample textbook containing only one picture of an African American: a girl playing basketball in a public housing complex. And in Texas, students received textbooks that characterized Africans in the Atlantic slave trade as seemingly voluntary “workers,” not enslaved people. These are among the examples cited in a report issued today by Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs who lead systems that collectively serve more than 7 million students.

The report, Honoring Origins and Helping Students Succeed: The Case for Cultural Relevance in High-Quality Instructional Materials, describes how culturally relevant curriculum and instruction can play an important role in helping to systematically remove prejudices about race and class and in honoring students’ diverse backgrounds.

“February is Black History Month, and many of our nation’s schools have used these past few weeks as an occasion to remember and celebrate the history, culture, and important achievements of African Americans,” the chiefs’ report states. “But our focus this month on African-American history also serves as a reminder that many schools, while committed to commemorating the African-American experience during the month of February, often fail to take a culturally relevant approach to teaching and learning—for all historically underserved and underrepresented students—during the rest of the year. That’s a mistake, and one that can negatively affect students, especially students of color.”

Based in part on a research analysis conducted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, the report provides an overview of the emerging research base on cultural relevance and describes how Chiefs for Change members are transitioning to rigorous instructional materials that honor the origins and experiences of their diverse students. As one example, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises and her team are overhauling the district’s English Language Arts curriculum after an audit found, among other deficiencies, that the instructional program was overly focused on negative aspects of African American history. Hear from Dr. Santelises in this video.

Other Chiefs for Change members featured in the report include:

  • Donald Fennoy, superintendent of The School District of Palm Beach County. Dr. Fennoy completed the Chiefs for Change Future Chiefs program and leads a district that uses a standardized, rigorous process and rubric to analyze the quality and cultural relevance of its curriculum.
  • William Hite, superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. Dr. Hite and his team are taking important steps to ensure the use of high-quality, culturally relevant resources in a district with a number of autonomous schools.

In addition to showcasing the work of these and other Chiefs for Change members, the report offers recommendations for state and district leaders who want to incorporate cultural relevance into high-quality curriculum and instructional materials. It notes that quality and relevance are dual imperatives of an equity agenda as it relates to teaching and learning.

“America’s schools must give all children opportunities to see themselves in the content they learn, while also developing their knowledge about the people, places, ideas, and events that have shaped the human experience,” according to the report.

Expanding access to high-quality curricula and related professional learning is a top advocacy priority for Chiefs for Change. The membership previously issued this statement and this policy brief.

About Chiefs for Change

Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.