Investigating teachers' capacity to develop and demonstrate multicultural competency in classrooms

Date of Completion

January 2003


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Psychology, Social|Education, Educational Psychology|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




Educating a nation of ethnically, racially and linguistically diverse children is one of the many challenges facing teachers and teacher educators. In 1995, 35 percent of the students enrolled in public schools were multicultural 1 students of color (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002) and this number is expected to grow to 46 percent by 2020 (Pallas, Natriello, & McDill, 1989). In some of the nation's largest cities, the population of multicultural students has already exceeded the percentage of White students (Banks, 1994). In contrast, White teachers represent 90 percent of the public school teachers and 85 percent of the education graduates in 1999–2000 (NCES, 2002). The demographic disparity between students and teachers suggests a need for increased attention toward multicultural teaching strategies and multicultural competency, areas that have remained relatively unexamined in the preparation of White teachers (Howard, 1999). ^ Teachers' lack of multicultural competency, including skills and knowledge regarding multicultural education, may contribute to their inability to increase student achievement. On a large scale this lowered competency and skills may explain gaps in achievement and underrepresentation and overrepresentation in gifted and special education programs. This mixed-methods study investigated the concept of multicultural competency—recognized as one of the goals of multicultural education—as a strategy for improving teacher-student cross-cultural relations (Gay, 1994). Data were collected from 162 preservice and inservice teachers using two survey instruments, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM) (Phinney, 1992), the Multicultural Education & Cultural Competency Assessment (MECCA) (Boyd, 2002), and 12 in-depth case studies. These data were analyzed to determine how multicultural competency was demonstrated in the classroom by assessing teachers' conception of multicultural competency comprised as three factors: knowledge and skills with multicultural education; attitudes, beliefs, and expectations; and awareness of self in terms of racial and/or ethnic identity. ^ Findings suggest that most teachers used lower level multicultural education approaches in the classroom and had minimal knowledge of these approaches. Factors such as high expectations, empathy, empowerment strategies and racial consciousness experiences may enhance teacher capacity to develop or demonstrate multicultural competency. ^ 1Multicultural refers to those traditionally identified as minorities, namely American Indians, African Americans/Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos(a).^