Master of Education

Culturally Responsive Leadership – 3 Part Series

Michele McConnell

Michele McConnell

Why do our school sites need Culturally Responsive Leadership and how can it be implemented or practiced?

In this three part series we will explore Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL): Why do our school sites need CRSL and how can it be implemented or practiced. Please note that CRSL is not just for administrators. It is meant for anyone who practices leadership on their school campus.

The Reproduction of Inequality (Bourdieu, 1977), has deep roots within the United States education system. There is longitudinal documentation for the racial achievement gap, evidence of less diversity at the collegiate level, empirical evidence of a school to prison pipeline, continued evidence of tracking within K-12 school systems, and the more recently reported stories of African American youth in crisis. The American Dream suggests that immigrants have come from all over and have “melted” together to form the current, dominant culture; however, the dominant culture is one that belongs to those who are White. In the fall of 2015, 50.1 million PK-12th grade students attended school, of which only 24.7 million were White (NCES, n.d.). The largest group of non-White PK-12 students were Hispanics (13.1 million) and Blacks (7.7 million) (NCES, n.d.). With the growing trend of a diverse nation and diverse PK-12 system, the melting pot is not a positive metaphor. The melting pot metaphor leads to the lack of respect for individual cultures. In most cases, students from diverse backgrounds are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture. According to Spring (2009), this is a crime. However, with more than 80% of the current teaching population in the US being White female, there tends to be a disconnect. Most teachers fail to realize how the implications of their perspectives from the dominant culture are communicated in often authoritarian ways to non-White cultures (Howard, 2006; Vassallo, 2015).

While the conversation of opportunity gaps is growing, we continue to have an achievement gap which has only widened in the state of California. According to the Smarter Balanced Consortium (SBAC), 69% of Asians achieved the state’s targets whereas only 49% of White, 21% of Latino, and 16% of Black students achieved the state targets (Blume, 2015). The racial achievement gap was also documented in the 2015 NAEP released scores. In California, Black 8th graders scored on average 26 points below their White counterparts, and Hispanic students scored 25 points below White students (Center for Education Statistics, 2015). New research out of Stanford University further confirms the racial achievement gap. Researchers, comparing 11,000 districts across the US found that Black students lag behind their peers four to five grade levels, or 1.5 full standard deviations on the NAEP assessment in university towns like Berkeley, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Sparks, 2009). One may begin to ask why the gap exists. One answer is linked to discipline policies on campuses.

Low achievement in school has been linked to discipline policies within schools. The disproportionality of Black students being two to three times overrepresented in school suspensions as compared to the White peers, has been documented since 1975 (Gregory, Skiba, & Noguera, 2010). Wallace et al. (2008) also found Native American Indians to be suspended at higher rates than White student. When a student is expelled or suspended, he loses class time and become less invested within the process of learning. Lost class times leads to low achievement, and since more Black, Latina, and Native American Indian Students are suspended or expelled there is a direct connection to the racial achievement gap. Did you know that Arcia (2006) found that during one year after a suspension, students were two years behind their non-suspended peers in regards to literacy; and two years later, the suspended students were five years behind their peers? And, suspensions don’t just happen in low SES schools. Research shows that Black students experience higher suspension rates in wealthy, resource-rich suburban schools (Rausch and Skiba, 2004).

So, what is to be done? What is our role as a teacher, a teacher leader, or an administrator? First, we need to check our implicit biases and how we react to some students in comparison to others. We should consider Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP), and we should consider CRSL. In Part 2 of this series, we will look at reflective practices to help us see ourselves in relation to our students and begin to look at CRSL. In Part 3, we will look at a few models of CRSL and steps we can take immediately to begin to practicing CRSL.

If you are interested in reading any of the sources mentioned, please see below:

  • Arcia, E. (2006). Achievement and enrollment status of suspended students: Outcomes in a large, multicultural school district. Education and Urban Society, 38, 359-369.
  • Blume, B. H. (2015). Achievement gaps widen for California’s black and Latino students, 1–5. Retrieved from
  • Bourdieu, P. (1977). Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction. In Power and Ideology in Education (pp. 487–511).
  • Center for Education Statistics, N. (2015). 2015 Reading State Snapshot Report Achievement-Level Percentages and Average Score Results Compare the Average Score in 2015 to Other States/Jurisdictions, 2015.
  • Gregory, A., Skiba, R. J., & Noguera, P. A. (2010). The achievement gap and the discipline gap: Two sides of the same coin? Educational Researcher,39(1), 59–68. doi:10.3102/0013189×09357621
  • Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory Into Practice42(3), 195–202.
  • NCES fast facts tool provides quick answers to many education questions (national center for education statistics). Retrieved May 13, 2016, from
  • Sparks, S. D. (2016, April 29). Achievement gaps and racial segregation: Research finds an insidious cycle. Retrieved May 7, 2016, from
  • Vassallo, B. (2015). Toward a framework for culturally responsive educational leadership. International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research,12(2), 107–120.