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March 1, 2015
Vol. 72
No. 6

Power Up! / The Culturally Proficient Technologist

Power Up! / The Culturally Proficient Technologist- thumbnail
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<BQ> Public schools in the USA began the 2014–15 school year with an unprecedented demographic profile: For the first time ever, white students are the minority. … Both the percentage and number of white students in U.S. schools are expected to drop slowly but steadily over the next several years, from 50 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2022.1 </BQ>
As a new teacher in the 1970s, I attended inservice workshops designed to help educators become more "multicultural and gender fair" in our teaching. But changing educators' behaviors—including my own—in terms of cultural differences is still a work in progress.
Like many districts, the one in which I work is seeing increased diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language. Our free and reduced-price lunch numbers have risen dramatically. And our test scores aren't where we would like them to be. There's a growing awareness that we can't teach our new groups of culturally diverse students the same way we taught our middle-class white kids and still expect success.
Our district leaders have undertaken a study of what cultural proficiency means and how students in our changing school system might benefit if all educators were more culturally proficient. We've begun inservice trainings, book studies, and discussions at the leadership level. We're learning that recognizing diversity as an asset, not a deficit, lies at the heart of being culturally proficient. As Delores and Randall Lindsey write,
Effective school leaders understand and recognize the importance of addressing diversity in all its cultural, linguistic and human forms as assets within the school community, rather than deficits and problems to be solved.
If your district is also trying to find ways to make cultural difference an asset, your technology director needs to be part of any leadership team working toward that goal. That's because using technology is one of the best means of adapting materials for diversity and gathering information about many cultures. In some cases, it may be the only way to do so.

How Technology Can Help

Consider how your school or district might employ these strategies to help everyone more effectively reach students from all backgrounds and cultures:
  • Use data to probe questions around diversity and achievement. Using technology to collect, store, and analyze achievement data helps us identify groups that are less successful in our systems, the first step to developing strategies to meet their needs. It's crucial to use the right kind of data and analyze the information carefully. Data mining programs that contain student standardized test scores can analyze performance by group (ethnicity, economic status, language proficiency), indicating which groups need additional help in meeting standards. Districts can also use their student information system's discipline reports to determine whether some groups are being suspended or expelled at a high rate and could have serious discussions of why this might be happening. The data should be used not to accuse or blame, but to guide improvement.
  • Build content that reflects students' cultures. Students need to see both "people who look like me" and "people who don't look like me" in curricular materials. Technology helps make that happen. Digital resources can—and should—provide access to fiction and nonfiction materials with a broad range of diverse characters and cultures. The <LINK URL="">International Children's Digital Library</LINK>, for example, is a free resource that provides outstanding e-books from throughout the world. The <LINK URL="">We Need Diverse Books</LINK> campaign pledges to "address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children's literature" by encouraging publishers and libraries to provide a wider variety of texts reflecting different races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual identities.
  • Personalize learning. Each classroom may include students with a wide range of individual abilities in core areas, particularly when a school population changes rapidly. A 9th grade history class may need reading materials at both the 3rd grade level and the college level. Providing such a spectrum of classroom materials in print is nearly impossible. Teachers can use technology to design individualized learning plans and access relevant resources that meet the needs of all students. Learning management systems like Moodle, Schoology, Edmodo, and Fishtree enable teachers to link a variety of resources—such as e-books, online articles, age-specific full-text databases, Wikipedia, and numerous open educational resources—to individual units.
  • Secure equal access to learning resources. Diversity often means serving more low-income students, whose homes often have a paucity of reading materials and learning opportunities. Schools should, if possible, provide free digital devices (like iPads and laptops) on which learning materials can be stored and accessed. As my <LINK URL="">February 2015 "Power Up!"</LINK> column suggested, however, providing tech devices to children of poverty won't create an equal foundation for learning unless we help provide home Internet access. It's also important not to prevent students who live in economically disadvantaged areas from bringing school-supplied technologies home for fear a device might be stolen or damaged. And if your district includes schools of varying socioeconomic levels, you'll need to address any inequities in the amount of classroom technology different schools have by finding external funds for technology.
  • Address language needs. More than 80 native languages are spoken by families in my midwestern suburban district. Technology can help educators translate English—spoken or written—into other languages. Schools need to inform non-English speakers about available school technology and to teach both students and parents how to use tools like <LINK URL="">Google Translate</LINK>, which can convert English text into nearly 90 world languages. My district had our cultural liaisons meet with immigrant families when we rolled out our 1:1 technology initiative. Language line phone services, through which a teacher or administrator can speak to a non-English-speaking parent using an interpreter, are a great resource. Check with your state's department of education to see what language services like these are available in your area.
  • Make sure "all" means all when teaching 21st century skills. Perhaps my biggest concern is that, through low expectations, educators will damn certain groups of students to ignorance about technology. Schools must ensure that all students get comfortable using devices and information systems to answer questions and solve problems. Standardized tests measure basic reading, writing, and math proficiencies—and these are important. But if educators stop there and don't recognize that all our graduates need 21st century skills, we'll fail to make our fastest-growing groups of learners, those from nonwhite cultures, career- and college-ready.

Continuing the Journey

Just as a hammer can be used to build a cathedral or break its windows, tech tools can be used for good or ill. As education uses more technology, we must examine the moral imperatives of its use and its effect on all our students.
Despite 40 years of "multicultural, gender-fair" training, I still feel far from the end of my journey toward cultural proficiency. But I'm glad my district and I are taking this trip, with technology as part of our strategy. I hope it's a journey you're taking as well.
End Notes

1 Toppo, G., &amp; Overberg, P. (2014, November 25). Diversity in the classroom. USA Today. Retrieved from

2 Lindsey, D. B., &amp; Randall B. L. (2014, November/December). Cultural proficiency: Why ask why? Leadership, 44(2), 24–27.

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