Confused About the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards?

I’ve been casually hearing about Illinois’ proposed Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading (CRTL) Standards for months (like, at a board meeting or in the context of the ongoing effort to diversify Illinois’ not-very-diverse pool of educators), but it seems like over the last week, talk of the Standards has exploded. And as with many fast-moving stories, the accuracy has not always been spot on. In this blog, I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion by introducing the role of teaching standards, talking specifically about what’s in the proposed CRTL standards, and explaining the strange process for adopting teaching standards in Illinois.

So… What are Standards Anyway?

You hear about “Standards” a lot in education, from learning standards to professional teaching standards. They outline a framework for learners, teachers, administrators, or educator preparation programs. Standards are set in Administrative Rules, which means they do not have the force of law like legislation that passes the House and Senate and gets the Governor’s signature.

Learning standards are a benchmark to guide what students should be able to do at what grade level, but they don’t prescribe any curriculum.

Professional teaching standards establish a framework for educator preparation programs to align with for program approval – again not prescribing their curriculum or student curriculum — but putting some guardrails in place to make sure programs are high-quality and prepare teachers for the challenges of their profession.

Illinois’ current professional teaching standards include sections on teaching diverse students, content area and pedagogical knowledge, differentiating instruction, learning environment, communication, instructional delivery, assessment, collaborative relationships, and professionalism. The CRTL Standards build upon the framework that is already outlined in the sections on teaching diverse students and collaborative relationships.

What are the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards?

The story of the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards started under Republican Governor Rauner’s administration in 2018. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) was among 10 state education agencies which participated in an initiative of the Council of Chief State School Officers which sought solutions to diversify teacher pipelines and ensure that teachers be prepared to teach a multi-cultural population of students and embrace students’ race and ethnicity as an asset in their learning.

This is especially important for Illinois because over 80% of Illinois’ teachers are white, educating a student population that is less than half white. Teacher diversity has not kept pace with changes in student diversity, and rates of retention for Black teachers are lower than white teachers. Diversity matters: having just one Black teacher in grades 3-5 boosts Black boys’ odds of graduating high school by 30%; for very low-income Black boys, it’s 40%.

This initial conversation spurred creation of the Illinois Diverse and Learner-Ready Teacher Network, a group of Illinois educators who came together to carry on the conversation at the state-level. How can we make sure that Illinois teacher candidates enter classrooms prepared to support and empower their students, no matter the students’ race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, physical ability, income status, sexual orientation, or gender identity? It was through this lens that the Network produced recommendations for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.

There have been multiple versions and changes to these since they were first proposed. Most of the confusion I have been hearing recently actually links to an old version. ISBE already removed some of the language that is receiving pushback, like changing “progressive” to “inclusive” and “activism” to “advocacy.” Here’s the most recent public draft, though it is likely that the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) will suggest some edits as well (see the next section for more on that).) The CRTL Standards define what it means to be a culturally responsive teacher; educator prep programs must demonstrate alignment to the standards during the program approval process after October 1, 2021. Programs that are already approved would have until October 1, 2025.

According to CRTL, the culturally responsive teacher or leader would exhibit competencies in several areas:

  1. Self-awareness and relationships to others. These standards include things like understanding that multiple lived experiences exist, approaching students with an asset-based mindset, affirming students’ backgrounds and identities, educating themselves about students’ home cultures, and assessing their own biases.
  2. Systems of oppression. This includes understanding the differences between racism, prejudice, and discriminationbeing aware of the effects of power and privilege, and understanding how systems of inequity create rules about student punishment that has negatively impacted students of color.
  3. Students as individuals. A culturally responsive teacher would value their students as individuals within the context of their families and communities, engage their students’ families and communities outside the classroom, provide parents with information about the expectations for their children at school, and set holistic goals that accommodate multiple ways for students to show their strengths and demonstrate success.
  4. Students as co-creators. The standards include believing that all students are capable, encouraging and affirming personal experiences students share in class, making authentic connection between academic learning and students’ prior knowledge and culture, soliciting student input in curriculum content, and creating student leadership opportunities.
  5. Leveraging student advocacy. This includes supporting and creating opportunities for student advocacy, guiding students to form self-advocacy plans to inform their decisions, helping students identify actions to apply learning to develop opportunities for student experience, creating risk-taking spaces, holding high expectations, and giving students space to solve their own problems.
  6. Family and community collaboration. Culturally responsive educators regularly interact with and seek perspectives from families, foster connections between students and the outside community, use culturally responsive practices to value students and their traditions when motivating them, welcome and respond to communication from families, and invite families to teach about culturally significant topics.
  7. Content selection in curricula. The standards include intentionally embracing student identities and prioritizing their representation in the curriculum, ensuring assessments reflect this enriched curriculum, encouraging inclusive viewpoints and perspectives that leverage asset-thinking toward traditionally marginalized communities, selecting texts that reflect students’ cultures, and use a resource tool to assess curriculum and assessments for bias.
  8. Student representation in the learning environment. Culturally responsive teachers ensure diversity of their student population is represented in the learning environment, including linguistic diversity and inclusive building décor. Exceptionally culturally responsive teachers provide exposure to under- and mis-represented groups even when those cultures are not present in the student population.

What is the Process for Adopting the Standards?

The standards are set forth in ISBE’s Administrative Rules, which are proposed by the agency and allowed or denied by a legislative commission known as “JCAR.” JCAR is made up of equal representation of House and Senate members, and Democrats and Republicans; that’s different than the partisan split of the legislature, where Democrats hold supermajorities. The process is also quite different than passing a bill through the legislature. The 12 members (six Democrats and six Republicans) of JCAR are the only legislators who will take action on a proposed Rule.

The process (outlined here) requires agencies to provide at least a 45-day public comment period after the first notice of the proposed Rules. Then, the agency will collect feedback, make changes, and submit the modified Rule proposal to JCAR for a second notice. Only changes agreed to by JCAR and the agency can be made at this point. Finally, the Rules come before JCAR at a board meeting. To block a proposed Rule, a three-fifths majority vote of JCAR members is needed.

As for the CRTL Standards, here’s their timetable.

  • December 2019: Diverse and Learner Ready Teacher Network submitted recommended standards
  • June 2020: ISBE presented Rules based on those recommendations to the Board, which approved them for public comment
  • December 2020: ISBE presented changes based on feedback from public comment and voted to submit the proposed Rules to JCAR for its “second notice”.
  • February 16, 2021: JCAR meets and is expected to take action on the CRTL Standards

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