“Undergirded with Urgency” provides a framework for educators and scholars to engage in Roundtable Discussions that challenge participants to make effective, equity-oriented curricular decisions while teaching in the context of poverty. On top of providing a plan for a Roundtable Discussion, this paper synthesizes how theories presented by Paul Gorski (2018), Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995), Django Paris (2012), Michael Schiro (2013), and Elliot Eisner (2002) can factor into the curricular decision-making process for educators who work in the aforementioned context. This synthesis clarifies that Gorski’s concept of Equity Literacy does align with Ladson-Billings’ ideas surrounding Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, but notes the importance of utilizing Paris’ Sustaining Pedagogy, due to the fact that sustainment endorses the plurality of a poverty experience. The combination of Equity Literacy and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy aligns with three of Schiro’s curriculum ideologies: Social Reconstruction, Learner Centered, and Scholar Academic. The paper clarifies that the combination of Equity Literacy and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy do not endorse Schiro’s Social Efficiency curriculum ideology. In terms of Eisner, the author elucidates the importance of limiting the existence of an Implicit and null curriculum in order to legitimize and sustain all student experiences. Readers should note that this iteration of “Undergirded with Urgency” does not perfectly adhere to the citation standards outlined in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: 7th edition. The author of this text includes page numbers of included quotes such that information is still able to be referenced, but ultimately prioritized overall readability of the text.
Educational inequity is a pervasive and damaging phenomenon that negatively impacts the educational experiences of students across the United States. Educational inequity, which may result from a lack of staff or funding, prevents the creation of positive student outcomes. Schools that exist in areas noteworthy for poverty may be more impacted by inequities. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts of educational inequity are intensified. Consider the following information regarding NWEA Measure of Academic Progress (MAPs) data from spring 2019 and spring 2022. NWEA MAPs are nationally normed standardized assessments that quantify student progress in the long term. When comparing scores from before and after the pandemic, data shows that reading scores in the United States decreased between “2 to 4 percentile points” (Kuhfeld & Lewis, 2022, p.6). On top of this, math scores decreased between “5 to 10 percentile points” (Kuhfeld & Lewis, 2022, p.6). While these percentile decreases are disheartening, perhaps more discouraging is the fact that “the pandemic has more strongly impacted students in high-poverty schools” (Kuhfeld & Lewis, 2022, p.6).
The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic achievement in high-poverty schools intensifies already existing educational inequities. Catalyzing positive student outcomes in the wake of this disproportionate impact is an arduous task. While working in this context of high-poverty schools, it is imperative to study and support equity-oriented pedagogical theory to create adequate educational experiences for students. In a situation where colleagues might possess anachronistic or damaging stereotypes about students or how to educate in the context of poverty, the responsibility rests on equity-oriented educators to create dialogue that catalyzes the development of productive, asset-based theoretical underpinnings for educational decision-making. “Undergirded with Urgency” clarifies theory about effective curricular decision-making in the context of poverty, and provides a framework for a Roundtable Discussion that encourages participants to engage in introspection and team synthesis activities to create short- and long-term plans that utilize equity-based theories to guide educational decision-making.
Undergirded with Urgency
On Friday, November 11, 2022, staff at Pueblo Academy of Arts (PAA) engaged in a building-wide Professional Development experience. Entering this experience, staff members were tired, disillusioned, and ready to rest. The fall term at PAA presented a number of barriers, including but not limited to: increased student behavioral issues, a shortage of teaching staff, and a lack of support and sufficient preparation time to plan rigorous lessons. The Professional Development experience that day was intentionally focused on rejuvenating morale. In response to this taxing block of the school calendar, staff members processed difficulties of the profession and attempted to define their “why” in relation to teaching. Redefining the “why” was an action intended to reinvigorate equity-oriented curricular decision-making mindsets amongst teachers in the building. In these conversations, several spoke about education in the context of poverty, with some citing potential teaching strategies from Ruby Payne. I recalled Payne’s (1996) problematic “Could You Survive in Poverty” questionnaire, which asks participants to respond to prompts such as: “I know how to physically fight and defend myself physically” (p. 38). I recognized the danger of referencing Payne’s assertions regarding the violent culture of poverty and felt an internal call to action to develop a manner with which to rebuke and dismantle these damaging beliefs.
Consider the following information about the school where I teach: according to SchoolDigger, a database that compiles test and demographic data about schools from all over the United States, 83% of students at PAA qualify for free or reduced lunch (Pueblo Academy of Arts, 2022). Based on the same study, Pueblo Academy of Arts ranked 446 of the 448 middle schools in Colorado during the 2021-2022 school year, with less than 2% of students meeting state testing expectations in Math, and just 11% of students meeting state expectations in ELA (Pueblo Academy of Arts, 2022). After engaging with the November Professional Development event, recognizing the impact of Ruby Payne’s ideas, studying educational data about PAA, and interacting with course materials from my graduate studies, I felt an internal call to action. I decided to research additional, equity-oriented curricular theorists and utilize my findings to develop and propose the holding of a Roundtable Discussion to educate school staff about effective curricular decision-making in the context of poverty.
Determining a Conceptual Framework and Presentation
My first step in developing this presentation was to consider a conceptual framework. I knew that I would need to develop an advanced understanding of curricular decision-making procedures related to Gorski’s (2018) concept of Equity Literacy. I decided to utilize Gorski’s ideas as my theoretical underpinning for two reasons. The first revolved around his position with regard to Ruby Payne. After the publication of Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Gorski served as a central critic. In his rebuttal of the text and of Payne’s theories about poverty as a whole, Gorski (2008) asserted that Payne “has not, in fact, engaged in structured inquiry, that no real data exist, and that her work is based on a collection of casual observations from her individual experience” (p. 133). Second, I resonated with the pragmatism of Gorski’s (2018) text: Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap. In this text, Gorski provides tangible actions for educators, school leaders, and policy-makers in regards to effective curricular decisions in the context of poverty and Equity Literacy.
After deciding to orient the presentation around Gorski’s ideas, I further contextualized the framework I was developing with ideas presented by other equity-oriented scholars. I based my additional reading around the following considerations. Gorski calls on Ladson-Billings to clarify the following: “we must attend to “diversity” by making equity, not culture or cultural diversity or cultural competence, the center of our conversation and commitments”(p. 17). This led me to investigate Ladson-Billings’s scholarship about Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (1995). I determined that although Gorski seemed to support the scholarship presented by Ladson-Billings, he also warned that being culturally responsive and competent could serve as a dangerous segway into believing in a culture of poverty. In search of additional clarifications, I then turned to Django Paris. Paris’s extension and nomenclature adjustment of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy helped clarify how the principles of Cultural competence could work in concert with Gorski’s original ideas. In the end, engaging with scholars such as Paris (2012) and Ladson-Billings (1995) clarified the distinctions and relationship between equity work and cultural competence, and contextualized Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Pedagogies with Gorski’s concept of Equity Literacy.
After deciding on a conceptual framework, I developed a methodology for presenting my findings on curriculum development. At first, I was keen on presenting at a future Professional Development session. However, as a result of conversations with peers and my own further thinking, I realized that a more suitable presentation platform rested in the form of a Roundtable. In this setting, in my view, participants could accomplish three major learning objectives. The first was to synthesize the impact of the post-Covid educational paradigm on teachers. The second was to foster understanding of the work of key equity-oriented scholars and the implications of these views on teaching in the context of poverty. The third was to create both immediate and long-term action steps to cultivate equity-oriented pedagogical practices. Developing the Roundtable also required logistical considerations, such as attendance. I could not guarantee attendance, so I chose to rely on like-minded educators to have intrinsic motivation to engage in the proposed discourse. I also envisioned additional Roundtables, which would allow for participation from teachers outside of PAA. As a final note, I did consider proposing this Roundtable as virtual, but decided against this. Team decisions about future educational planning would mean more, I concluded, if they were made in person.
The intended format of the Roundtable is centered on discussion. Upon entrance, attendees will be invited to answer this question: How are you feeling about the 2022-2023 school year? Intended to give space to reflect on the tumultuous post-covid educational paradigm, new and experienced educators might produce differing answers. After five minutes of individual reflection, time is provided for an optional share out. Next, the group will establish discussion norms. While the Roundtable facilitator/discussion leader will present some recommended norms, Roundtable attendees will also be able to add any discussion norms they feel will be pertinent. With opening remarks concluded, test score statistics from the 2021-2022 school year will be presented. Attendees confront those numbers on their own, and then together as a group. After test scores are examined, the group engages with another statistic: the percent of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch at PAA. This statistic is studied in the same order: review the information as an individual, then make sense of it as a group. Prompting questions are intended to help participants synthesize their own viewpoints on how poverty impacts education. One of the motivating factors in developing this Roundtable was to help strengthen understanding of poverty as a structural and societal problem. After individual and group discussion, the presentation moves forward to part two.
With the conclusion of a five-minute brain break, participants learn about relevant scholarship to enhance understanding of effective curricular decision-making in the context of poverty. The discussion leader first presents the scholarship of Ruby Payne, then challenges her ideas with Paul Gorski’s principles of Equity Literacy. Participants engage with Gorski’s Equity Literacy Principles alone, and then as a group. The next introduction of scholarship follows a similar format, this time with Ladson-Billings’ ideas about Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP), and Paris’ nomenclature adjustment of CRP to Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. After the individual and group engagement with the work of Ladson-Billings and Paris, participants take another short brain break and move into the action planning portion of the session.
The discussion leader kicks off part three by presenting a synthesis of Gorski, Ladson-Billings, and Paris, and how the mindsets of all three scholars factor into curricular decision-making in the context of poverty. Roundtable participants are first challenged to comment on the presenter’s mindset and then cultivate their own. Once the group cultivates a collective mindset, the final portion of the session involves individual, small-group, and whole group brainstorming of short and long-term curricular actions, while utilizing the new mindset as a driving force. A successful Roundtable might result in a desire for more discussion, which can be addressed through the scheduling of additional opportunities for discourse in the future.
This section synthesizes the scholarship to be presented in the Roundtable.
Section A: Developing a New Mindset Related to Diversity
Gorski’s approach to Equity Literacy includes the following quote: “we must attend to “diversity” by making equity, not culture or cultural diversity or cultural competence, the center of our conversation and commitments” (p. 17). I was interested in how this quote might be brought into a comparison with Ladson-Billings’s Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Paris’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. Ladson-Billings proposed a culturally relevant theory of education (p. 465) based on study of the educational praxis of “eight exemplary teachers.” She concluded that curricular decisions made by these exemplary teachers pointed to a framework for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, a term that could be defined as an effective method to educate diverse populations while breaking away from the stereotypical notion of White cultural supremacy in the U.S. (p. 465). For Ladson-Billings, those who engage in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy demonstrate competency in six criteria across two separate categories: teaching practice and critical thought (p. 483). To demonstrate competency in teaching practice, the first criteria is a focus on academic rigor, because “no matter how good a fit develops between home and school culture, students must achieve. No theory of pedagogy can escape this reality” (p. 475). The second requirement of Culturally Relevant teaching practice is to highlight and respect cultural practices alongside the focus on academics. As an example of this, Ladson-Billings explains how an English classroom analyzed poetry through understanding and engaging with “rap lyrics” (p. 476). A final element of Culturally Responsive teaching rests in a teacher’s ability to “recognize, understand, and critique current social inequities” (p. 476). In the critical thought category of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, a successful practitioner possesses specific “Conceptions of Self and Others” (p. 478). Amongst these conceptions are strong ties to the community, and an indefatigable belief that “all students… [are] capable of academic success” (p. 478). Culturally Relevant Practitioners also hold viewpoints about “Social Relations” (p. 480). These viewpoints emphasize strong understanding of individual student experiences, and how a classroom is a “community of learners” (p. 480). The final category related to critical thought considers “conceptions of knowledge” (p. 481). Those who practice CRP engage with knowledge as an ever-changing idea that “is shared, recycled, and constructed” (p. 481).
Ladson-Billings’ Culturally Relevant Pedagogy does align with Gorski’s principles of Equity Literacy. However, while Gorski seems to support Culturally Relevant Pedagogy as defined by Ladson-Billings, Gorski notes potential shortcomings of just being Culturally Responsive. Throughout Gorski’s points about working with diversity by addressing equity, he specifies the abhorrent effects of believing in a culture of poverty. Gorski places a premium on attending to diversity rather than cultural competence. This is because a failure to engage in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy with complete efficacy could result in the delegitimization of poverty experiences, and subsequent labeling of poverty as a culture. This is where the scholarship of Paris serves as a clarification tool. Gorski’s fourth principle of Equity Literacy states that “people experiencing poverty are diverse,” which is to say that there is not a typical poverty experience (p. 28). Paris includes a quote from Alim, who asserts that: “culturally appropriate, culturally responsive, culturally relevant, or whatever other term we have produced… [utilizes and endorses] classroom practices that use the language and culture of the students to teach them part of the ‘acceptable’ curricular cannon” (p. 95). Paris feels that this mindset will prevent effective ‘support [of]… the linguistic and cultural dexterity and plurality’ in the United States” (p. 95). For Paris, the response to the shortcomings of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy is the creation of a new term, “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy” (Paris, 2012, p. 95). This new pedagogical belief calls for “supporting multilingualism and multiculturalism in practice and perspective for students and teachers” (Paris, 2012, p. 95). Through sustaining culture, Paris advocates for the recognition of diverse experiences, while supporting continued “access to dominant cultural competence” (p. 95). Paris’s scholarship is not a complete departure from the ideas of Ladson-Billings, but seeks to clarify diversity and equity-oriented actions in an important nomenclature adjustment.
Contextualizing the scholarship of Ladson-Billings and Paris with Equity Literacy clarifies the dangers of cultivating just Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the context of poverty. While it is important to understand community and adhere to the principles of responsive praxis as outlined by Ladson-Billings, the preservation of diverse cultural traits through the utilization of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy is paramount in legitimizing the diverse experience of poverty; and is in line with Gorski’s 4th principle of Equity Literacy.
Section B: Gorski, Ladson-Billings, and Paris, with Schiro and Eisner
After contextualizing Gorski’s concept of Equity Literacy with scholarship from Ladson-Billings and Paris, I cross referenced my new ideas surrounding diversity and equity with two other major curricular theorists: Schiro (2013) and Eisner (2002). This process created additional foundations for theoretical presentation in the Roundtable Discussion. To start with Schiro, curricular decision-making in the context of poverty aligns with the Social Reconstruction school of thought. With Social Reconstruction theory acknowledging “that our society is unhealthy,” curricular decision-makers can use this lens to analyze poverty (p. 151). As outlined by Gorski in the eighth principle of Equity Literacy, “educational outcome disparities are the result of [societal] inequities” (p. 25), so a fit is evident between Social Reconstruction and Gorski. Social Reconstruction curricular decisions also line up with Ladson-Billings’ core tenets of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, in terms of being able to “recognize, understand, and critique current social inequities” (p. 476). Paris’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy also lines up with Social Reconstruction thinking.
The Learner Centered perspective is also utilized. Ladson-Billings advocates for a “demonstrate[d] connectedness with all of the students,” where all students are “learn[ing] collaboratively and…[are] responsible for one another” (p. 480). Paris calls for practice that “perpetuate[s] and foster[s]…linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism” (p. 95). Gorski’s work also refers to “The Mother of All Strategies” as “nurturing equity-informed relationships with students and families” (p. 143). The aforementioned information aligns with Schiro’s consideration that “learner-centered schools orient themselves around the needs and interests of children” (p. 105). Theories presented by Gorski and Ladson-Billings utilize Schiro’s Scholar Academic Curricular orientation as well. In Gorski’s classroom action plans for Equity Literacy, he outlines the importance of “adopt[ing] higher-order, student-centered, rigorous pedagogies” (p. 125). In Ladson-Billings’ definition of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, she notes the “sophisticated” nature of the classrooms observed in relation to academic rigor (p. 475). For Paris, sustaining pedagogies and how they relate to “extending the richness of our pluralist society” could be considered a rigorous academic task as well (p. 96). In essence, the three theorists advocate for curricular decisions that “give intellectual vitality, excitement, depth, rigor, and currency” the core aspects of the Scholar Academic perspective of (Schiro, 2013, p. 54).
Schiro’s view of Social Efficiency is the most contentious when relating to the aforementioned scholars. Recall that Gorski’s twelfth principle of Equity Literacy states that “there is no path to educational equity that does not involve a redistribution of access and opportunity” (p. 34). This statement signifies that Gorski desires societal change. Ladson-Billings’ definition of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy notes how successful practitioners include “critique [about] current social inequities” (p. 476). This idea contrasts with a main goal of the Social Efficiency ideology, which is “to perpetuate the functioning of society” (Schiro, 2013, p. 69). Paris does include theoretical underpinnings that would support the Social Efficiency ideology. In defining the importance of multilingualism, Paris states: “a pluralistic society needs both the many and one to remain vibrant,” with “the many” and “the one” referring to languages (p. 95). With a statement like this, a reader might deduce that Paris would endorse promoting adherence to a dominant culture in society through specific educational decisions. This thought process would align with the Social Efficiency ideology. However, Paris does not endorse the Social Efficiency ideology and adherence to one culture in the United States, because the dominant culture is historically racist. To highlight this point, Paris (2012) notes how support of pluralistic society in the U.S. does not occur when “immigrant communities and communities of color are involved” (p. 95). Paris’s description of the racist nature of the dominant culture in U.S. society cements the idea that all three scholars support societal change as a manner with which to create educational equity, and hence they cannot embrace the Social Efficiency ideology in full.
Eisner’s work is also relevant here. The scholarship of Eisner (2002) specifies that a curriculum can be Explicit and Implicit (p. 87). The Explicit curriculum can be defined as “what is intentionally taught” (Eisner, 2002, p. 88). The Implicit curriculum can be defined as “the hidden…curriculum”” (Eisner, 2002, p. 93). In addition to specifying the distinctions between an Explicit and Implicit curriculum, Eisner (2002) also clarifies the existence of a Null curriculum, which references “what schools do not teach” (p. 97). To combine Gorski, Ladson-Billings, Paris, and Eisner, consider the following. Gorski argues for an Explicit Curriculum that places a great deal of emphasis on literacy and “literacy enjoyment” (p. 125). An Equity Literacy oriented curriculum would also be Explicit about critical literacy, and “teach about poverty, economic injustice, and class bias” (p. 125). Gorski’s Equity Literacy focuses on limiting bias through being as explicit as possible to avoid the presence of deficit-based Implicit and Null curricula. The reason for this is because “if students are finding bias in learning materials that we as teachers fail to acknowledge, they could interpret our lack of acknowledgement as agreement” (Gorski, 2018, p. 137). For Ladson-Billings, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy is Explicit about rigorous instruction, because “students must achieve” (p. 475). At the same time, curriculum is Explicit about inclusion of relevant content and concepts from the related culture, and challenges “social inequities” (p. 476). The Implicit aspects of this would be in legitimizing cultures and calling for societal change. Paris proposes a curriculum that is explicit in “supporting multilingualism and multiculturalism in practice and perspective for students and teachers” (p. 95). In this way, the curriculum is implicit about respect of all cultures, and the Null Curriculum is observed to ensure that all cultures are accounted for in a pluralistic educational and societal paradigm. In reference to Eisner’s core theories, Gorski, Ladson-Billings, and Paris argue for the creation of explicit curriculums that legitimize culture and call for societal change, and avoid the presence of bias in implicit and null curricula.
Conclusion: A Call to Action for Educators
In creating a plan for a Roundtable Discussion professional development experience, I realized that the work required to make adequate systems-based change for the provision of equitable educational opportunities reflects urgent needs, is based on alarming conditions, and can seem quite overwhelming. This poses the question: what should be done practically? Due to the scope of inequity in the US educational system, achieving meaningful change might seem impossible. Teachers must remember what is in their locus of control. In the short term, classroom educators who work in environments where society deprives equitable access to opportunity need to engage in continuous self-introspection and improvement to align their practices with Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy and the principles of Equity Literacy. School level leaders need to create forums amongst staff and cultivate conversation that furthers understanding of how Equity Literacy and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogical practice fit into relevant educational paradigms. School level leaders should also cultivate mindsets that endorse equity at every opportunity. In the long term, societal changes must occur. As Gorski (2018) advocates in Equity Literacy Principle 12, “there is no path to educational equity that does not involve a redistribution of access and opportunity” (p. 25). While this statement could be perceived as revolutionary and radical, I am optimistic about the ability of changemakers to work within the fabric of US institutions to create incremental and pragmatic steps towards change. With that in mind, any step towards equity is important, because any day without engaging in this work is another day without progress towards true educational equity. This is why this work is undergirded with urgency.
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To cite this work, please use the following reference:
Repucci, D. (2023, May 23). Undergirded with urgency. Social Publishers Foundation. https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/undergirded-with-urgency/