Friday, September 29, 2006

Social Justice is Always In

Why is a teacher education accrediting organization trying to push it out?

In June 2006 the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) backed away from “social justice.” The organization sets the standards for teacher education programs nationwide. Social justice had been included as an example in the Program Standards glossary definition of “Disposition” (as in, what kind of dispositions should a teacher have?). But this must have ruffled some feathers—Arthur Wise, NCATE President, wrote in his obfuscating “Statement from NCATE on Professional Dispositions,” posted June 16 on the NCATE website ( “Critics incorrectly alleged that NCATE has a ‘social justice’ requirement. It does not.”

But it should. All teachers, indeed all citizens, should be disposed towards justice.

The rest of Wise’s statement blah blahs around the heart of the issue—NCATE has revised its definition of “Dispositions” (now called “Professional Dispositions”) and removed the offending phrase. Social justice—fairness, equity, access—is out. You won’t hear this directly from Wise, though; you can only find it out by burrowing into the website until you locate a link to download the proposed revisions, where you read the new, presumably less threatening definition, which doesn’t offer any specifics at all. What kind of teachers do we need today? This “leadership” organization doesn’t offer any ideas.

Something else is missing from the main text of the newly revised Professional Standards—any mention of sexual orientation. As with social justice, “sexual orientation” had been, and still will be present in the Glossary, this time as part of the definition of “Diversity.” But the proposed revisions now direct readers to look at the rubrics for each standard to see which types of diversity to consider when planning or assessing teacher education programs. Turn to Standard Four: Diversity, and there are listed many important groups to which students and families are linked, including: English language learners, gender, ethnic and racial, students with exceptionalities, and more. Absent? Sexual orientation. Also absent, as it always has been from any part of NCATE’s Standards is gender identity.

On September 29, 2006 a letter signed by 193 individuals working in the field of teacher education was sent to NCATE. It called on the organization to establish social justice, sexual orientation, and gender identity within the main text of Standard Four: Diversity. If you agree, send a note saying so to

The letter, as sent to NCATE, is pasted below (minus the 16 pages of signatures). To sign on, send me your name, title, and affiliation at

September 29, 2006

Dear Arthur Wise, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE):

We call for the language “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to be included in the main text of Standard Four: Diversity in the Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education, 2006. As NCATE already acknowledges, teachers must be prepared for diversity in education, in their students, in their students’ parents and families, among their teaching colleagues, as well as in class materials and discussions. Sexual orientation is a key part of diversity, as understood by our institutions and communities and as represented in the NCATE definition of diversity . But the absence of sexual orientation and gender identity in the body of the standards, where other aspects of diversity are listed, sends the message that the needs and identities of LGBT students, families, and teachers are not important.

The following statistics indicate that addressing sexual orientation (a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction) and gender identity (a person’s sense of being male or female, feminine or masculine) in our schools is urgent :

The population of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is large.
In a 2003 survey conducted by the Chicago Public Schools and the Center for Disease Control (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) 6.3 % of high school students attending Chicago Public Schools identified their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Schools are unsafe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
According to the 2005 School Climate Report conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):
--75.4% of LGBT students reported hearing remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke" frequently or often.
--89.2% reported hearing the expressions, “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” often or frequently at school, and 67.1% reported that hearing “gay” or “queer” used in a derogatory manner caused them to feel bothered or distressed.
--64.3% reported feeling unsafe in their school because of their sexual orientation.
--45.5% reported being verbally harassed and 26.1% had experienced physical harassment in school because of their gender expression.
--40.5% reported that teachers never intervened when hearing homophobic remarks.
--18.6% reported hearing homophobic remarks from faculty or school staff frequently or often.

Negative school climates affect LGBT youths’ well-being and academic success.
According to the 2001 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, LGBT students are more likely than the general student population to:
--attempt suicide (32.7% vs. 8.7%),
--skip school because they feel unsafe (17.7% vs. 7.8%).

Teachers are ill-equipped to confront issues that contribute to anti-LGBT hostility.
--81.7% of LGBT students reported that they had never learned about LGBT people, history, or events in any of their school classes (2005, School Climate Report, GLSEN).
--In a study of pre-service teachers, 57% indicated that they needed more training or education to work effectively with LGBT youth and 65% reported that they needed more specific education to address homosexuality in their teaching (Koch, 2000).
--In a study of high school health teachers, two-thirds indicated that they had inadequate education about LGBT issues (Telljohann, Price, Poureslami, Easton, 1995).

Hostile schools and poorly informed, prejudiced educators clearly harm LGBT youth, but all students are hurt by homophobia and heterosexism in schools, including those with LGBT family members and those identified by others as acting outside traditional gender norms. Teachers must be able to create learning environments in which all children can be successful. All teachers must learn to:

--Create safe learning spaces
--Address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in the classroom and school
--Communicate with all parents, including LGBT parents
--Teach students to respect the rights of others and coexist in a diverse world

Sexual orientation has never been part of the main text of NCATE’s Professional Standards, but its inclusion in the glossary has encouraged educators to use NCATE’s definition of diversity when planning how best to create and assess educational programs for teacher candidates. The proposed revisions direct readers to look at each standard for the elements of “diversity” to consider when creating and assessing teacher education programs. But sexual orientation is not included in any of the rubrics for any of the standards. This decreases the possibility that teacher education programs will include sexual orientation. Gender identity is similarly absent. Sexual orientation and gender identity should be stated explicitly in the main text of the Standard Four: Diversity, along with other categories like race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Absence sends a message of non-importance.

Social justice, when used as a guiding principle, encourages recognition and inclusion; it seeks the presence of all community members. NCATE discredited its commitment to “help all students learn,” when it removed social justice from the glossary of the Professional Standards. The elimination of social justice makes it even easier to marginalize sexual orientation and gender identity. And the elimination of the words “social justice”prompts the question: Who will be excluded next?

Luckily, examples of organizations that have taken ethical positions abound. Ontario’s teacher accrediting organization vows that its members will “model respect for…social justice.” The accrediting bodies of other professions, including the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychological Association, and the American Bar Association, have explicit commitments to social justice and queer rights in their accrediting requirements. NCATE should, also.

Educators of conscience call on NCATE to establish and prioritize sexual orientation, gender identity and social justice within our Standards.


The Undersigned