“Culturally Responsive Teaching” Standards: Whether They’re Adopted Is Up To You

Written by Honorable Steve Reick

In my last blog post, I discussed the “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” which have been promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and which will be considered by JCAR at its February meeting. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’d ask that you take a few moments to read the post to get the full background.

I’ve sent a letter to ISBE asking a number of questions about the standards which I’ve asked that they answer prior to our February meeting. The central question as I see it is:

Subsection (a) of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards states as follows:

“Teaching Diverse Students – The competent teacher understands the diverse characteristics and abilities of each student and how individuals develop and learn within the context of their social, economic, cultural, linguistic, and academic experiences. The teacher uses these experiences to create instructional opportunities that maximize student learning.”

Question: When the very first section of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards requires an understanding of and a sensitivity to the needs of diverse learners, what do the CRTL standards add that are not already plainly stated?

ISBE’s stated aim is to increase the number of minority teachers in Illinois, especially bilingual and special ed teachers. I fail to see how these standards will do this.  Instead, these standards are directly aimed at increasing social activism within the teaching profession, which will translate into lesson plans such as was recently reported about a teacher in Cupertino, California who forced her third grade class to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.” This isn’t new, as George Will wrote about in 2013, describing an effort in Wisconsin to get students to wear white wristbands “as a reminder about your privilege.” What’s new is that this kind of thing is now being elevated to the level of state policy through an under the radar process known as administrative rulemaking.

I need to take a few moments to discuss the role that JCAR plays in the whole scheme of things. As time has gone by, Illinois has followed Congress’ example by abandoning the practice of passing statutes that fully describe the matter at hand (and taking responsibility for the consequences), leaving that more and more to the discretion of executive agencies through the administrative rulemaking process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard legislators in debate on a bill saying that inconsistencies and clarifications in a bill can be left to JCAR. That’s not our job.

JCAR was originally intended to be a committee that had a very low-key role in determining a rulemaking’s adherence to statute and legislative intent, but it has become more of a flash point in the development of (in this case) education policy because of the Legislature’s abdication of its responsibility to clearly state what it means in statute. As the Legislature becomes less involved as the voice of the people (except at election time), JCAR is being asked more often to suspend or reject specific rules, thus taking on the role that the Legislature has all but abandoned: that of guardian of their interests. Again, that’s not JCAR’s job.

JCAR’s staff has always held the position that any public comments regarding proposed rulemaking should be directed at the agency promulgating the rule rather than the members of JCAR because the agency is considered the “active” party in the process, while JCAR’s role has been deemed to be “passive” by virtue of its stated mission of determining compliance with state statute. While I agree with that intent and understand that the focus of inquiry and comments by the public should be placed upon the agencies writing the rule, the agencies have become ever more insulated from such attention, and the focus has shifted to the members of JCAR, resulting in hundreds of phone calls and thousands of emails to its individual members.

Last May I received over 10,000 emails when the Governor tried to turn struggling business owners into criminals through the rulemaking process. That pressure upon me and the other Committee members forced him to pull the rule before JCAR considered it. So I’ll leave you with this. If you’re upset about this rule and want to voice your displeasure, you can send me an email, but I’d also ask that you send your thoughts to ISBE by clicking here. You can also clog up their phone lines by calling ISBE in Chicago at (312) 814-2220 or in Springfield at (217) 782-4321.

There’s a lot at stake, how it ends is up to you.

Steve Reick is a Republican Illinois State Representative from the 63rd District, which includes Woodstock, Harvard, Hebron and part of McHenry. This article was originally published on his blog. Representative Reick is married, has three children and 4 grandchildren.