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As the influx of immigrants into the United States has risen over recent years (Kohut & Suro, 2006; Massey, 2007), and with this trend expected to continue, the cultural, ethnic, racial, and socio-economic composition of U.S. society is becoming increasingly diverse (Milner, et al., 2003; Wallace, 2000). Accordingly, the face of the American student is also more diverse. But, as the student body is becoming more heterogeneous, with only slightly over half of public school enrollment consisting of White students (U.S. Department of Education, 2010), the racial/ethnic composition of teachers remains much less diverse (U.S. Department of Education, 2009).
As they begin their teaching careers, many new teachers have never attended school with, or lived in neighborhoods with, people of color (Larke, 1990; Milner, 2003). About 84% of the nation's teachers are White (U.S. Department of Education, 2009), and are often from middle-class backgrounds (Parameswaran, 2007), while only a little more than half of U.S. public school students are White (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).
The expanding student-teacher cultural mismatch leads to cultural and ethnic ignorance that is particularly dangerous in the increasingly diverse classroom climate in the U.S. today. In essence, culturally and ethnically ignorant and incompetent teachers lack skills necessary to acknowledge and to deal effectively with a culturally, racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse body of students (Milner, 2003).
Miscommunication, false expectations, and hidden biases in the classroom due to this lack of skills may unintentionally encourage discrimination and inequity in the education process. In particular, students from backgrounds and ethnic groups unlike those of their teachers face negative stereotypes and prejudices that their White counterparts do not encounter (Gamoran, 2001; Mayer, 2002; Rist, 1970). In all, the expanding disparity between teacher and student cultural and social background yields hidden problems for many students (Parameswaran, 2007; Weddington & Rhine, 2006).
The purpose of this article is to examine the effectiveness of a diversity training program designed to sensitize pre-service teachers to the expected diversity of their future students. Diversity training programs have been implemented with the intent of diminishing the problems of cultural biases in teachers, but few programs have been systematically studied to determine whether they are actually accomplishing their goals.
Using a unique sample of pre-service teachers, this study finds a lack of association between completing a diversity training program and reports of cultural biases regarding student background characteristics' influence on their learning. This lack of an association is discussed in the context of a variety of efforts by teacher education programs to prepare future teachers to adjust to, to accommodate, and to effectively teach, the increasingly diverse student population they are likely to encounter as teachers.
In particular, the diversity training program under examination here is compared and contrasted with various strands of multicultural teacher education (MTE) programs, placing this program within a typology of MTE. This gives way to suggestions for improvement of this program to more adequately prepare pre-service teachers for the challenge of teaching to a diverse classroom, as well as to adopt a more critical view of teaching to and for, not simply being aware of differences among, a diverse classroom.
The striking cultural disparity between teachers and many students has been acknowledged as a persistent, dangerous problem, and efforts have been made to buffer against its effects. Among the most common strategies to accommodate the growing diversity of the U.S. student body and the discordant culture of most teachers is the implementation of teacher diversity training programs in schools of education.
Stemming from the principle that education, awareness, and sensitivity are crucial in eliminating discrimination, an increasing emphasis of teacher training has been to promote equity and justice in the classroom, leading to equal opportunities in subsequent institutions (Delpit, 2006).
One key concept included in diversity awareness training programs is "culture." A significant lack of understanding or consensus of what "culture" actually means, how to teach pre-service educators about it, and the ways in which such concepts should be addressed in the classroom are potential culprits explaining the ineffectiveness of many diversity training programs in schools of education (Castagno, 2009; Gorski, 2009b; Heard, 1999; Ladson-Billings, 2006).
A popular function of the notion of "culture" has been to serve as a proxy for race, as if racial groups were primarily defined not demographically, but by a unified imputed culture (Ladson-Billings, 2006; Lamont & Lareau, 1988). The concept of culture has been arbitrarily and conveniently used as an excuse as to why some students cannot achieve success in the classroom, as well as for explaining students' behaviors that teachers are not able to understand (Lad son-Billings, 2006).
Like race, the elusive concept of "culture" is often used to explain deviance from mainstream norms or characteristics, as if the dominant group does not have an actual "culture" (Ladson-Billings, 2006). This reflects the overdetermination of the use of the concept.
This blanket use of the concept of culture to explain disparities in classroom performance among students is based on the same logic as Oscar Lewis's …