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To the dismay of educators, reformists, politicians, and American citizens, the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to exist. When educational standards are set and then used to compare districts, there is an assumption that all students have had equal opportunities to meet those goals, and this is simply not the case (Bohn & Sleeter, 2000). The current state of urban schools and their crumbling facilities, lack of resources, and lack of qualified teachers makes the playing field anything but level (Williams et al. v. State of California et al., 2005; Bohn & Sleeter). Because of these and other factors, children in urban schools with high percentages of minority students consistently under-perform white students on standardized assessments, drop out of school at a much higher rate than whites, and fail to acquire the basic academic skills that lead to successful employment and self-sufficiency (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2000). Mean achievement scores in both math and reading for fourth and eighth graders in large central city schools nationwide are significantly lower than the national average (NCES, 2005).
A review of the literature on urban schools points to several factors contributing to disparities in education in addition to the funding formulas currently utilized for urban and suburban/rural districts. Unqualified and unprepared teachers (Ladson-Billings, 2005), and the mismatch between the teaching force and their charges (Burstein & Cabello, 1989; Gomez, 1996; Hodgkinson, 2002; Terrill & Mark, 2000) are among the most prominent contributing teacher factors, while teacher education curricula inadequately addressing the needs of the ever-changing student population (Foote & Cook-Cottone, 2004) is a contributing factor of teacher education. Possible solutions have included alternate teacher recruitment strategies (Haberman, 1995), including alternative routes to certification (Berry, 2001; Weiner, 2002), and a reevaluation and redesign of teacher education programs, curricula, and field experiences (Sleeter, 2001; Webb-Johnson & Artiles, 1998).
Challenges Facing Urban Schools
Despite the multiplicity of our nation's students, diverse demographics have yet to be seen in our teaching force (NCES, 2003). Low numbers of minority teachers in schools and in teacher education programs may be due to the increased opportunities in fields outside of education for people of color (Hodgkinson, 2002); however, it is also more than likely due in part to the high dropout rate of minority students in urban schools (NCES, 2000), the percentage of students following alternative paths to graduation (Ladson-Billings, 2005), and therefore, the smaller number of people of color in teacher preparation programs (Sleeter, 2001). Since student diversity will continue to be an issue in our nation's schools, today's teachers need to be taught how to effectively teach students from cultural groups dissimilar from their own. High teacher turnover rates in urban schools continue to be a result of candidates who are unprepared for urban schools, the high needs of their students, and in the poor working conditions they find themselves in (Kozleski, Mainzer, & Deshler, 2000). Another challenge is oftentimes the unexamined biases or stereotypes that many white middle-class preservice teachers have towards people of diverse cultures, languages, or socioeconomic status (SES) (George, & Aronson, 2003).
Attempts to Remedy
The belief that teachers must be taught to work with children from other cultures has spurred the inclusion of culturally relevant pedagogy into our nation's teacher education programs. Even if an increasingly diverse teaching force is achieved, there will still be a need for multicultural education (Ladson-Billings, 2005). Teachers of color may have a "richer multicultural knowledge base" than white teachers do (Sleeter, 2001, p. 95), but they do not necessarily bring more knowledge about effective pedagogical practices for urban minority students. This may occur because teachers tend to fall back on and teach in the ways that they are most familiar (Swartz, 2003), and because many people of color were taught by white teachers who, because of a lack of focus by teacher education on culturally responsive pedagogy, may have used instruction methods that obstructed instead of complimented the education of students from non-dominant cultures. Knowledge of cultural differences and suggestions for how to best address these issues may help limit the misconceptions of inexperienced teachers who interpret student behaviors as a result of their home life instead of cultural differences (Bohn & Sleeter, 2000).
Culturally relevant pedagogy and urban field-based experiences are essential because the realities of the job market may force candidates to seek employment in urban districts whether or not they want to and whether or not they feel prepared to do so (Swartz, 2003; Wolffe, 1996). However, there is a lack of empirical research on the type and amount of curriculum that sufficiently prepares teachers to face diversity in the classroom (Sleeter, 2001; Webb-Johnson & Artiles, 1998). Exposure to diversity is essential when one considers the demographics of our nation's teachers: for example, white, non-Hispanic adults comprise over 80% of the teachers in the United States (NCES, 2003). Fear may be a factor influencing teacher candidates' willingness to teach in urban schools since many of them have not attended public, high-need, urban schools. Field experiences in urban schools may serve as a way to lessen these fears and acquire a respect for both urban students and teachers (Heinemann, Obi, Pagano, & Weiner, 1992; Pagano, Weiner, Obi, & Swearingen, 1995).
According to Proctor, Rentz, and Jackson (2001), candidates' willingness to teach in urban schools following experiences in these schools was positively influenced as a …