Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

In education, culture matters (but not the culture you think)

When it comes to the achievement gap in public schools among students of different ethnic backgrounds, culture matters.

But it’s not the kind of culture that most people think of, said Ginger Maloney, director of the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy and former dean of the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education.

While some have argued that it’s the different cultural values of each ethnic or racial group and how they view the importance of education that affects how well children learn, Maloney said studies show students are impacted by many different cultures, not just one.

There is the culture of home, the culture of friends, the culture of country, and the culture of school, among others. Instead of trying to focus on the culture of home (such as values parents or ethnic backgrounds place on education), educators should focus on the only culture they can affect, the culture at school.

“Culture does have an impact, for better or worse, on academic achievement,” Maloney told a packed Driscoll Ballroom at the winter Provost’s Luncheon on Feb. 26.

Educators have shown when they place emphasis on learning and academic achievement, when they make high academic achievement more important than social cliques or athletic competition, students respond, Maloney said. Citing the example of the Denver School of Science and Technology and the success achieved there, Maloney said changing the culture of a school can boost the performance of students who had been at below-grade level.

“There is just no question that every child in that school is going to go to college,” she said.

Educators may have little chance of changing a parenting style or a child’s home life, but they can change the environment at school and the educational approach, Maloney said. They can have high expectations for all students.

“As educators,” she said, “We need to focus on what we can control.”

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