Culturally and lingiustically diverse

Aydin Bal is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Professor Bal studies racial disproportionality and capacity building in local education agencies for systemic transformation. His recent research projects aims at developing culturally responsive intervention methodologies for ecologically valid, socially just, and sustainable transformations in schools. As a practitioner, Professor Bal has worked with youth from historically marginalized communities and refugees who experience behavioral difficulties. He is directing a statewide research project, Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Youth from nondominant cultural and linguistic backgrounds are disproportionately exposed to exclusionary and punitive school disciplinary actions (e.g., detention, suspension, and expulsion) and placed in special education for emotional disturbance (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Losen & Gillespie, 2012). The racialization of school discipline has a long history (Children’s Defense Fund, 1975). These disparities hold today, with African American, Latino, and Native American students disproportionally subjected to harsher punishments for less objective reasons such as disrespect, insubordination, or excessive noise (Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002; Losen & Orfield, 2012). Racial disproportionality in behavioral outcomes has been a major social justice problem that contributes to unacceptable and detrimental consequences in the lives of nondominant youth, their families and teachers and the society as a whole (Noguera, 2003).

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Rebeca Burciaga is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and a member of the Core Faculty for the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University. Dr. Burciaga’s research centers on understanding and challenging educational practices and structures that (re)produce social inequalities for historically marginalized communities, including/specifically Latino students.  Her research in schools and communities spans over 20 years and includes mixed-methods research on pathways from preschool to the professoriate, the experiences of students who leave high school before graduation, and the ways in which geographic regions structure inequalities. She specializes the study of qualitative research methodologies including testimonio and ethnography. Her current research and teaching is focused on cultivating asset-based mindsets in teachers and administrators that work with youth of color.  Dr. Burciaga is a co-founder and co-coordinator of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz, a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California at Los Angeles.  Her research has been supported and recognized by the Spencer Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Institute of Health, and the American Association of University Women. Her most recent scholarship can be found in Equity & Excellence in Education, the Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, and the Educational Administration Quarterly.

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Adai Tefera’s research focuses on improving educational policies for diverse learners with dis/abilities. She is particularly interested in understanding the socio-historical, political, and cultural dimensions that shape policies and impact learning. A second strand of her research focuses on knowledge mobilization, an emerging field that aims to increase the impact and use of research by utilizing interactive strategies that target wide audiences, including educators, policy makers, community organizers, parents, and students. She is specifically interested in knowledge mobilization efforts that advance equity in education.

Taucia Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a concentration in special education. She is interested in expanding literacy practices for language minority students with learning disabilities. More specifically, her work examines how Latina/o language minority students engage in literacy across in- and out-of-school contexts.

Cueponcaxochitl’s research draws on decolonial and socio-cultural theories to examine Ancestral Computing for environmental, economic and social sustainability. Ancestral Computing for sustainability is an ecosystems approach to solving complex problems by interweaving Ancestral Knowledge Systems and computer science. She is a Xicana scholar activist who applies the interdisciplinary frameworks, coloniality of power and figured worlds, to analyze identity formations and civic engagement across learning environments (formal and informal). Her research informs various areas of work such as foundations, teacher preparation programs, curriculum studies and policy in computer science education.

Sarah Alvarado Díaz is a research assistant for Equity Alliance and a first-year doctoral student in the Learning, Literacies and Technologies program, with a special interest in students who are labeled as English language learners, as students who receive special education services, and in particular, looking at disproportionate numbers of English language learners being referred for special education services or being placed in special education programs.  Prior to coming to ASU as a full-time student she worked as an elementary school teacher in a South Phoenix school for sixteen years, where she worked with first through third grade students, and many years as a dual language teacher, in English and Spanish.  

This blog is written from the perspective of our four voices combined. You will see that the lines between our stories are blurred. Our combined experiences in policy and teaching in diverse settings is weaved into the voice of one person with four intersectional paths of theory and practice. Read more

Darold H. Joseph is a member of the Hopi Nation and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Disability and Psychoeducational Studies program at the University of Arizona, with a minor in Language, Reading and Culture. Mr. Joseph is known by his Hopi name Bahusompe (Spider Weaving a New Home) in his village of Moenkopi and also represents the Isswungmuy (Coyote Clan). He has previously served as a Elementary Special Educator and a Junior High and High School Special Education Administrator in the Hopi community. Through his experience Mr. Joseph has learned the relevance and importance in representing underrepresented communities such as Hopi in academic spaces to advocate for research and practice relevant to American Indian communities both in general and special education settings. His current research involves understanding the relationships between indigenous knowledge systems and Western educational paradigms, utilizing the historical lenses of indigenous ways of being and the impacts of colonization to further understand the development of cultural identity of American Indian youth with disabilities.

I am a Hopi community member named Bahusompe (Spider weaving a new home) from the village of Moenkopi on the Hopi reservation. I am a part of a community that shaped much of my cultural schema through hard physical work and a spiritual connection to place. Tending to the cornfields, working with livestock, and participating in ceremonial traditions are part of what makes me a member of my community and shapes my value of giving back to community. My decision to pursue higher education meant learning to negotiate and sacrifice pieces of my cultural schema to navigate the “institution” in order to be “successful” (whatever successful meant) by moving from my rural community to an urban university setting. I completed my dual degree in elementary and special education, partly because my mother was a special education teacher and also because I have a brother who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing. There were many times I had to choose not to return home to help with the cornfields and livestock nor to participate in ceremony, in order to complete my undergraduate program, followed by a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. I then returned to my community on the Hopi reservation and served as a special education teacher and administrator. Read more

Lucía Isabel Stavig is a PhD student in Justice Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the intersection of representation, immigration, and citizenship among undocumented mothers in Arizona. She received her B.A. from New College of Florida with a concentration in Sociology and Latin American Studies. Her undergraduate thesis was on representations of indigeneity in the global human rights discourse and its effects on NGO projects on the ground in Chiapas, Mexico. Lucía is the proud daughter of a Peruvian immigrant mother and a working-class American father—both of whose worlds have been under and/or unjustly represented in public and academic discourses—which has inspired her to look and listen from the margins inward.

Through personal and research experience, I know that immigrant parents want to be a part of their children’s education. For them, access to a good education is one of the main reasons immigrants stay in the U.S. Consider, then, the irony that it is sometimes the lack of access to knowledge of how the USian[1] school system works that stands between parents and being able to effectively advocate for their children in schools.

My mother emigrated from Perú to the U.S. when she was 35 to go to graduate school. Though she had class privilege, race privilege (she is considered white), a graduate degree and an American husband, when she started to have trouble with me in school, she was at a loss. We had just moved from Bolivia when I entered the USian school system. She was concerned with my English language skills (was I proficient enough?), but also knew that my first grade education in Bolivia had been more advanced than what the first grade in rural-suburban Florida could offer me. However, due to historic misunderstandings of how race, ethnicity, and history combine in places other than the U.S., school officials placed me back in the first grade and denied me language testing. This marked the beginning of my mother’s “education” in the USian school system. Read more

Anthony1 who self-identifies as a DREAMer2 grew up and attended school in the Phoenix metro area. He has been married for seven years. Although he was born in Mexico, beyond family stories, he has little memory of his parents’ homeland since he moved to the U.S. as a child. Anthony is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to enroll in college, but in the meanwhile he proudly cares for his 18 month old daughter and a niece and nephew full time.

I have no recollection of being brought to the United States; after all I was a 4-year-old child. Growing up I had the good fortune of being raised in an environment that never forced me to think about citizenship in terms of documentation and social security numbers.  I attended elementary schools where children of different races learned and played together, and in my mind we were all citizens.  I never recall knowing or wondering about anyone’s documentation status or who was an American.  In my mind we were all American and we all had dreams.

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  1. For the privacy and protection of this bog contributor a pseudonym has been used []
  2. The immigrants that are commonly referred to as “DREAMers” are undocumented youth that were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 who meet the general requirements of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. []

Rosa M. Jiménez is an Assistant Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include critical and culturally relevant pedagogies, social studies education, and immigration. She examines the education, alienation, and empowerment of working class students of color, with a focus on Latina/o immigrant students. Dr. Jiménez interrogates how educators can affirm, access and sustain Latina/o students’ everyday cultural practices, experiential knowledge, and family histories. Dr. Jiménez has over ten years of experience working in K-12 public schools as a social studies teacher, literacy coach and educational researcher.

For decades Latinas/os have been called ‘the sleeping giant’ because of their dormant collective political and economic promise. We saw a glimpse of this promise during the 2012 November elections as 71% of Latina/o voters helped re-elect President Obama, signaling to many that the giant had awakened (Pew Hispanic Research Center). The Republican Party was stunned and began to take notice of Latina/o political power. These events come on the heels of a nearly three-year firestorm of (post SB 1070) anti-immigrant legislation, racially hostile public discourse, record-breaking deportations and family separations, an unprecedented Executive Order granting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the historic civic action, protests, and mobilization of immigrant rights groups. In turn, these events have prompted a renewed national focus on immigration with the possibility of bi-partisan legislation on ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform. The national debate and possible ensuing policies are intrinsically linked to how educators think of Latina/o immigrant[1] children and their education. Read more

Dr. Carole Cobb is an accomplished curriculum designer, program developer, and coalition builder with over thirty combined years of successful teaching and administrative experiences as a public school educator, university professor, and education consultant. She is the Executive Director of Sankofa Education Alliance, a non-profit training and consulting company, whose mission is “creating healthy learning and living environments for children to excel, families to thrive, and communities to flourish”. Recently, Dr. Cobb served for four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District as its K-12 District Coordinator concentrating her efforts on eliminating educational disparities for Standard English Learners (SELs) and providing professional learning opportunities for administrators, teachers, support staff, and parents in cultural responsive educational practices to ensure equitable access to quality education for these historically underserved students.

Standard English Learners Defined

Standard English Learners (SELs) represent a population of students whose ancestral or home languages reflect unique cultural and linguistic histories other than English, and differ in structure and form from the language of school [i.e. mainstream standard American or academic English]. Their languages incorporate English vocabulary while embodying phonology, grammar, and sentence structure rules transitioned from various indigenous languages including African languages, Native American languages, Hawaiian languages, and Latin American Spanish. These languages relexify English vocabulary into their respective ancestral linguistic structure; however, because their primary language is now English, they are classified as English Only. Subsequently, these “language and linguistically-different” students do not receive the instructional support they need to become proficient in school language or mainstream Standard American English. Historically marginalized, Standard English Learners have been academically underserved in both K-12 and post-secondary educational settings.

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Timothy San Pedro is a PhD Candidate in English Education at Arizona State University, where he has conducted three years of ethnographic research in a Native American Literature classroom in a state that has banned ethnic studies programs in public schools. He taught Alaska Native High School students for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. He is a Ford Fellow; a Gates Millennium Scholar, mentor, and regional director; and a Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color Fellow. San Pedro’s research interests include Native American Urban Education and socio-culturally sustaining pedagogies.


As I enter the Native American Literature classroom that I am conducting research in, I see many faces, hear many stories, and engage in many conversations. On this particular day, I overhear a conversation Eileen has with another classmate. She says to her friend: “If you cut us in half and put us together, you’d have two complete people.” Eileen is referring to her and her friend’s ethnic makeup; they are both half Navajo and half African American.


Although a joke between two friends, I know what it feels like to want to be fully something, rather than on the margins of two or more cultural or ethnic identities. I want to reach out to both of them at this point and say, “It can get quite confusing. Take me, for example. I’m half Filipino, half Caucasian, yet I grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Since my family left my father, I have had zero contact with my Filipino culture and have been embraced by the Native American community around me. Where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Where do I fit, if anywhere?” Those conversations centered on identity may come later with Eileen. For now, I just give them a smile.

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Paul C. Gorski is an assistant professor in New Century College, George Mason University. Gorski’s work and passion is social justice activism. His areas of scholarly focus include anti-poverty activism and education, critical race theory and anti-racism education, and critical theories pertaining to women’s rights, LGBT rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, and anti-imperialism. Gorski is an active consultant and speaker, working with community and educational organizations around the world—such as in Colombia, Australia, India, and Mexico—on equity and social justice concerns. Gorski founded EdChange, a coalition of educators and activists who develop free social justice resources for educators and activists.

In my view, the challenge of educational inequity is not, as many assume, that too few people care about creating learning environments that work for all students. The challenge, despite an overwhelming desire among most teachers and administrators to serve the needs of all students, is that we generally have very little understanding of the depth and complexity of the problem.

Consider, for example, the monster we commonly refer to as  the “achievement gap”. I use this example because a vast majority of education equity attention today is focused on this “gap” as measured in standardized test score comparisons. Over many decades, even before today’s term for it was coined, school leaders have attempted myriad strategies for redressing “achievement gaps” among and between students across race, language, class, and other identities. But we’ve made so little progress. Why?

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