Practices that Promote Equity in Basic Skills in California Community Colleges

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Additional Program Examples of Successful Practices Addressing Equity

As previously stated, successful programs exhibit a few key factors: valid assessment practices, well-established prerequisites, and clearly defined student pathways with flexibility to address basic skills gaps. Appendix K includes examples of programs that engage students and help them to develop a learner identity. That inviting paradigm may be a learning community, a high touch outreach strategy, intrusive counseling, or flexibility with self-paced instructions such as the following:

  • Mission College MAPS – Math Achievement Pathway for Success

  • Oxnard High Tech/High Touch Methods to Prepare At-risk Students for Math and English

  • City College of San Francisco Retention Center Counseling an Tutoring for Basic Math and English, Mission College Math Achievement Pathway for Success (MAPS)

  • Pasadena City College’s Teaching and Learning Center Math Program and First Year Experience

  • Merced College Preparing High School Students for Higher Education Cal-SOAP.

Classroom-Based Equity Practices

To this point the paper has discussed important and far-reaching institutional and programmatic practices that address equity. However, as stated in the introduction of the paper, institution-wide efforts may not always be possible and programs do not always function at high levels of coordination. This is, however, no excuse to hold equitable outcomes as an unattainable value that cannot be realized on a particular campus. Each individual faculty, staff, and administrator can and must address the challenges and opportunities of equitable outcomes in whatever sphere of influence he or she has.

First and foremost, classroom instruction and student services that address equity must be student-centered, a driving force that stems from individual faculty, staff, and administrator commitment but coalesces into powerful institutional direction. Translating the concept of student-centeredness into the daily work of the colleges means that rather than primarily viewing course work and programs from a discipline perspective, the focus is on student pathways, student success, and potential barriers. The student-centered focus must be entwined in planning and designing assignments, assessments, programs, and schedules. While student-centered discussions should take place at the institution and program level, it is also essential that individual faculty, staff, and administrators explore these issues in their own specific arenas. As the discussion in this paper transitions from effective programs producing equitable outcomes to effective practices in courses and student interactions, the content addresses cultural competence (as described in Appendix C) and Universal Design (as described Appendix D). The paper concludes with a discussion of effective classroom practices that are founded upon years of research and are not new to faculty, but are often interrupted by financial crunches, obliterated by class size, or spoiled by a nonconductive learning environment. This portion of the paper seeks to elevate faculty motivation beyond these real blockades that plague the habitually underfunded community college system. These practices focus the attention on individual faculty work, doable in every faculty member’s sphere of influence without requiring financial or administrative support. The reader should realize that each individual can contribute to equitable outcomes through these time-tested, viable means of improving student success and influencing California’s future.

Cultural Competence

When the Basic Skills Initiative first started, it was obvious from the literature review that cultural competence was an important component of many effective practices (more information on Cultural Competence can be found in Appendix C). However, at regional BSI meetings it was common to hear faculty ask, “What does cultural competence really mean?” Cultural competence is clearly defined in the literature, and its role in meeting our diverse student needs and promoting successful outcomes becomes clear when the origin of cultural competence is examined. The concept of cultural competence was developed in the healthcare industry where people asked why the same diseases or syndromes, treated with the exact same medication and care, resulted in different outcomes based upon cultural backgrounds. Many well-documented research projects indicated barriers or gaps in healthcare that were based in cultural differences and were caused by a lack of clear cross-cultural understanding and an inability to adequately communicate across the culture-dependent barriers.7 The website for the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University (n.d.) reports that cultural competence requires that organizations:

  • have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.

  • have the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve.

  • incorporate the above in all aspects of policy making, administration, practice, service delivery and involve systematically consumers, key stakeholders and communities (p.1).

Translated into what individual faculty can do, we find that cultural competence involves the following: 1) valuing diversity; 2) examining one’s own culture and background; 3) desiring to understand others’ culture, 4) accepting cultural differences and dynamics without judgment; and 5) communicating and interacting in a culturally appropriate manner. This definition may seem to present an insurmountable challenge to individual faculty members (i.e. I can’t change my teaching for every single culturally different student in every one of my classes!). Cultural competence is not a quick fix; becoming culturally competent happens over time and results in changes in how faculty handle all students – as opposed to changes in response to each student’s uniqueness. “Cultural competence is a developmental process that evolves over an extended period. Both individuals and organizations are at various levels of awareness, knowledge and skills along the cultural competence continuum” (The National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University, n.d., p.1). Tools for developing cultural competence have been created by a variety of organizations. The information and concepts from these programs has been adapted into a Cultural Competence Exercise found in Appendix K which can be used to help individuals and institutions to consider their own competency level along the cultural competence continuum.
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