Differentiated Instruction is defined on page 1 of the 2011 Differentiated Instruction Institute: Just Right – Right Now (hosted by the Louisiana Department of Education) conference packet as:
“an instructional concept that maximizes learning for ALL students, regardless of abilities, learning styles, interests, or prior experiences.”
Sound democratic, maybe even diverse? Check out the LDOE’s mission statement mentioned on the inside cover:
“to ensure equal access to education and to promote equal excellence throughout the state. The LDOE is committed to providing Equal Employment Opportunities and is committed to ensuring that all of its programs and facilities are accessible to all members of the public. The LDOE does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, or genetic information.”
By the time I got to page 5, however, I began to question if the LDOE has really internalized their own mission statement and their own definition of DI. As I skimmed the bios of the presenters I realized they were all white Americans. Should this matter, considering how much I learned in the two days I attended? Should this matter, considering how qualified the presenters were? Should this matter, considering that our country’s president is black?
Yes, I think so. I understood that the LDOE did not intentionally exclude people of color, I hope, but more than likely the LDOE suffers from colorblindness, a common condition among well meaning but privileged individuals and groups.
This extends beyond the conference lineup and seems to be a major hindrance to education reform and closing the achievement gap in Louisiana. If you check the data at the LDOE website you’ll find a 20-30 percentage point difference between test scores (which are used to measure achievement nationally and locally) between high-low income status and African American-White.
Of course this data is presented with almost no context and could be used to support the racist stance that “blacks and poor people are just dumb and lazy.” I really believe that those who believe that want to believe it, regardless of sense.
It’s going to take more than us merely being nice people with good intentions to pull the United States from this educational quicksand. We have to be deliberate and purposeful, possibly even radical about addressing the racial and economic components of the achievement gap. It’s not enough to implement practices that are good for just any old student. Such generic, one size fits all education does not address the achievement gap. I hope federal and local government starts to say, let’s design some best practices and structural support specifically for students who we’ve been leaving behind (sometimes intentionally) since the inception of public schooling.
What do you think? What’s your stance? What’s in your hand? How will you use it to reform education?
Sarah L. Webb