In the latest EdVoices podcast episode, we sit down with Dr. Jessica Faith Carter who shares her expertise around the importance of culturally responsive education and the ways districts and states can provide resources, tools, and training to ensure selected materials honor and reflect their students experiences.

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Jess Barrow  00:08

Hi, I’m Jess Barrow, and this is the EdVoices Podcast. Today I’m going to be joined by our managing director for systems and conditions, Dr. Jessica faith Carter. And we’re going to be talking about some best practices for states and districts as they strive to select materials that are culturally responsive, that really speak to their students identities and needs. Jessica Faith, thanks for joining us. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  00:35

Sure. Thanks for having me. Jess. In my role here at EdReports, I primarily support our state partners with just creating awareness around HQIM, and I really love the work that I get to do. So, I’m looking forward to just sharing a little bit more about my experiences and leaning into some striking examples from EdReports work with culturally responsive instructional materials as well.

Jess Barrow  01:03

That’s so great. We’re so lucky to learn more from you. I think that we probably want to start with really talking about the why. So, why is it so important for students to have access to culturally responsive education, and that’s including materials that really where they can see their own experiences and communities reflected back to them in an authentic way, and gain insight into other diverse communities outside of their own? Why is that so important for them?

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  01:34

So I think it’s very important. And this is really rooted in my personal experience. As a child, I loved loved, loved to read. And one of my favorite books from my childhood is actually this Barbie book that my parents had made for me one Christmas, where I was one of the characters in the story. And it was the first time in a very long time where there was a character who had my name, was from my same city, had the same interest as I did. And I think that was probably one of the defining moments in my love of literacy, my love of learning.

I take that experience that I had, many, many years ago as a child, and fast forward to my time as an educator, and when I was a teacher, and observing that, you know, some of the materials that I had to use did not reflect the culture did not reflect the communities did not have any way for my students to, you know, see themselves and make those connections that made them want to read more made them want to learn more made them want to do more. And so when I, you know, got to a point in my career, where I had more autonomy, I had more agency to pick the things that I got to teach and pick the things that I knew would resonate with my students, I saw a tremendous difference and a tremendous change in just how receptive and responsive my students were because they finally were able to read about themselves, read about their communities, read about other communities that helped inform them on just ways to learn together and grow.

I think the final benefit in the big why is that there’s so much research out here, that really points to the impact that having access to high quality, cultural responsive education, and even now materials can have on on student outcomes. And so I think about the Chiefs for Change study, honoring origins and helping students succeed that shows that like when students have access to that relevant pedagogy and relevant, relevant materials decreases things like their attendance, their GPA, like their drive, and willingness to learn. So, yeah, just having those culturally responsive educational opportunities can be a game changer. And I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, if I did not have some access to that. Even years ago, when I was a student.

Jess Barrow  04:16

That’s so that’s so powerful. And I think there are a lot of districts that want to and states as well that really want to do this, and they want to do this work. But sometimes it hasn’t always been a part of selection practices in the past, and maybe they don’t quite know the best place to start. I know you’ve done a lot of work supporting districts and states in the different ways they’re approaching this. And I wonder if we could talk through some of the best practices districts can undertake as part of a larger selection process to really ensure that not only are their material standards aligned, but they really honor and reflect all students experiences, which as you’ve so powerfully said, is vital for them.

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  05:03

Absolutely. So I think there are a couple of things that districts and states can do to be more forward thinking and put in more efforts to ensure that their students have access to culturally responsive high quality instructional materials. And I think the first thing is just laying a strong foundation. So, beginning with the end in mind to clearly define the goals and, and the priorities and the wants and needs that are explicitly related to culturally responsive educational practices. And, these desires and the things that districts and states feel like they want and need should be included in the vision of instruction. So, it’s not like it should be some, one off piece or all the other characteristics of quality are on one side, and then culturally responsive aspects or, you know, way, way over here on the other side, like, blending it in together really helps.

And when I think about this, as an example, I work in Kentucky has been very like begun made a lot of progress in terms of the equity lenses that they brought into their instructional materials or instructional resources, consumer guides, where they are putting out information to help educators with their adoption process, and with their reviews of materials that really articulate the markers of quality for those content areas that are also very deeply interwoven with the equity lenses that they worked with leading educators to develop. And so by providing that type of guidance, it really does help lay that foundation for what comes afterwards with the review process with the adoption process.

I think another thing that can be helpful for states and districts is to really include those diverse perspectives. As far as the people that are making the decisions, and the people that are going to be involved in evaluating materials should come from a range of perspectives to make sure that everyone and everything is well represented. And so when we think about the curriculum review, or the adoption committees, those should be educator centered. And they should include a variety of perspectives.

So looking at different grade levels, different subjects levels, seniority levels, and make sure that the team is diverse, but then the groups that review should also when, when appropriate, and when necessary, be representative of the communities, diverse identities and experiences. So really thinking about what other voices can come to the table to make sure that, you know, culture, diversity, equity inclusion, are all centered in that process. And so, I believe that when we have more of those voices at the table, it’s more likely that the process of going about getting materials will be one that is more equitable, and it’s more aligned to priorities around cultural responsiveness.

I think another thing that kind of follows in that foundational element is devoting sufficient time, so making sure that the process of picking and selecting materials and reviewing materials, it’s not like something that should be done quickly, or at the drop of a dime. Investing heavily in being thoughtful and having the time to train reviewers to make sure that they know what they’re looking for, and those markers of quality and those cultural responsive elements, and then also allowing reviewers to take what they’re learning and put it into practice with careful rigorous examinations of the curricula in a way that maximizes the time.

Jess Barrow  08:58

But is also very thorough, right? Because they may never have done this before, as part of a process. So that training seems like it would be really integral and to make sure it’s not necessarily just like one session, it might involve more more sessions than that.

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  09:13

Yeah, absolutely. I think another thing that’s been helpful in the work that I’ve supported and learned over the years, is just choosing the right tool. For reviewing instructional materials, there’s no single tool fits all of the contexts. But there are a couple of things that districts and states should ask themselves and consider when looking to do their analyses.

So first of all, does the tool that you’re using include user guidance on how to write materials and what to look for when assessing these curricula against the criteria that’s been set? Does the tool reference a research base, so making sure that the tools that are are being used is informed by research and are informed by evidence that will help give you peace of mind that it’s not something that’s just made up.

Does the tool assess representation in a meaningful way? There’s a lot of emerging research, a lot of emerging information that’s coming out that is really informing how people are looking at materials, particularly around that representation piece and what that means for outcomes for students. I think another thing that may be useful to think about is just investing in the reviewer training. So giving that time for reviewers and stakeholders and educators and communities to really get what they need to learn how to review materials, and how to look for those aspects in particular.

This makes me think of our work in New Mexico, for example, where that state invested very heavily in their reviewer training each year, and included quite a bit of knowledge and capacity building around cultural responsive aspects of education, and what to look for in materials. Through our partnership, we worked with ELSF and did a lot of great work that is continuing to inform and build the capacity of educators in New Mexico to look for cultural responsiveness in their materials.

Jess Barrow  11:32

I think I think that’s a great example. And it really shows the power of like we talked about before, of having this be a sort of ongoing built into your process. And that it’s not a one off. And I know, when we’ve talked before, thinking about this as a larger process, sort of like a last, a last best practice you’d want to really focus on is that this might involve a lot of fortitude, and really making sure folks stay the course, you want to talk a little bit more about about that sort of last best practice to absolutely,

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  12:14

I felt like after the materials have been selected that’s when the next phase of the work really begins because it’s the professional learning that needs to take place to really make sure that once the investment has been made in the materials that the educators who are going to be using them have what they need in order to implement and be successful and make sure that those materials are accomplishing what they need to do.

And professional learning is not something that should just be at the beginning of the year. I mean, I think back to my time as a teacher, and the first couple of days back from, from summer break, it’s like here, your materials, here is a day or two of training and good luck. That wasn’t helpful. And so thinking about ways that, you know, the learning around the materials, what’s working, how are they helping students? How are they? How are students responding to the materials? How are teachers responding to the materials is something that can be really, really helpful in terms of ensuring that the implementation is there? And I think high quality instructional materials can definitely be educative and help with the learning curve for implementation. But I think just simply selecting materials that are culturally responsive, l that’s not the only thing educators really do need to have the support, have the help have the additional materials, so make sure that they can implement effectively. And that is something that really should be year round.

Jess Barrow  13:59

I love your focus on this is this is this is an iterative process, we’re not going to, especially when it comes to teaching materials in a holistic way hopefully involves an aspect of culturally responsive education and ensuring that teachers really have the training to do that .Otherwise either the materials stay on the shelf, or they may not be implemented in a way that can really support students the way we hope that they will be supported. Just the fact that you just gave so much good advice around laying a strong foundation, having diverse perspectives at the table, choosing the right tool, investing in that reviewer training and really planning for implementation as well all connected to culturally responsive materials. I wonder if folks think about what tools might be out there? What are some resources? I have this great advice. I kind of have an idea of how to structure it but where are some more places we can go to to find those resources or tools to help us in this process?

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  15:11

Yeah, great question. So over the last couple of years, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to come across great resources, create great resources, and collaborate with others and other organizations to identify resources. So the first one I’ll share is it on EdReports resource, and it’s the culturally centered education primer. We did some great work with a first a couple of years ago, where we really were just looking at how do people even define culturally responsive education. There are a lot of different terms, a lot of different definitions. And so if you’re at a place where you just want to start somewhere to know or try to figure out for your local district context, or your state context, what are you thinking about? Or what do you want to define as culturally responsive education, that is a great starting point, because it links out to a lot of great resources and research to help inform that decision.

A couple of years after the primer, we actually did a landscape analysis and in that work, a colleague and I did some research just to kind of see what was out there in terms of tools that educators are already using to evaluate materials for a range of characteristics or aspects of culturally responsive education. So again, similar to the primer, it links to lots of research, resources, and other tools that, districts and states can go about using if they’re interested in creating their own tools, or adopting tools that look for specific markers of cultural relevance, cultural responsiveness, and materials.

So along those lines, EdTrust just released the tool for representational balance and books and again, a great resource if you’re wanting to focus on or learn more about the different ways that culture, diversity, equity can show up in representation in texts. I know, a lot of times people just think, oh, well, check the box and say, are there characters of color or, or are there characters from certain regions? But the EdTrust tool goes into a lot more depth about the different ways that representation can be expanded. And it’s a really good tool to check out.

And then finally, I’ll promote the Baltimore case study that we did a few years ago. And this is really an example of how to bring in community and parent and family engagement around high quality instructional materials. They really did a great job of just showing examples and showing ways that Baltimore was able to bring in those perspectives as it informed their their adoption process. And so definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in learning ways to bring more voices and bringing more stakeholders to inform and influence the way materials get selected.

Jess Barrow  18:30

Yeah, I remember working on that case study and getting to speak with so many of the educators in the district, but also some parents and students as well. And all the different ways Baltimore really tried to think outside the box so they could have as many voices at the table, I think could be a great model for districts, like you said. All of the the studies in the resources you’ve referenced, they can be they’ll be found in our show notes so they’ll be really easily accessible through this episode. And almost almost all of them are also on the EdReports website. Tthanks for highlighting those Jessica faith. I feel like it gives a really concrete way for people to learn more at this about this very huge, important topic and really benefit from your from all the learning and expertise that you’ve you’ve already shared with us. You know, I think I think that’s about all we have for today but is there anything else you want to say to districts or states as sort of a final thought? If and if not, we can go about our way as well.

Dr. Jessica Faith Carter  19:41

Thanks for the opportunity for some some closing remarks. I would just say that if you are, in any position of power to make decisions around selecting high quality instructional materials, to really try to ensure that those materials are culturally responsive, I cannot share enough about how having even limited access to culturally responsive materials throughout my educated career, enhanced at my level of learning, enhanced myability to see myself in the things that I was learning. And knowing how that influenced my life, my trajectory. I just think that it is something that can be a game changer in terms of being able to provide additional support, resources that are going to help some of our most vulnerable and in need students. So, use this as an opportunity to learn and just help children.

Jess Barrow  20:46

Thank you so much, Jessica Faith. Thanks for sharing today and we will have you back soon. Can’t wait to see you again.