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An Interview with Gloria Ladson-Billings

By Wayne Au

Gloria Ladson-Billings is considered one of the leaders in scholarship concerning the education of African-American children today. Most notably she is credited with the concept of "culturally relevant pedagogy," which is explored in great depth in her book The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, where she asks the African-American community in her study to identify good teachers (regardless of race) and develops profiles of those teachers. Ladson-Billings is currently the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and holds the office of the President of the American Educational Research Association.

RS: What is quality teaching? How do we assess whether teachers are achieving it?

Ladson-Billings: We can't settle on what we mean by teacher quality. The most reductive notions have to do with how many courses somebody has in a subject area, where they graduated from, and how much time they've spent in the field. The more expansive notions have to do with what we see happening in a classroom where teachers are actually teaching. Almost no one has time to do that. There is a pre-service component to teacher preparation that allegedly has that. Student teaching is such an artificial environment. It's controlled, and everybody knows it. The student teacher knows it. The cooperating teacher knows it. The kids in the class know it. The supervisor shows up and everything is a performance. It's been staged. That's just a fact of life of most student teaching.

We don't really get to see teacher quality until we see someone who has full responsibility for their classroom, and in which we see them on site and we get to talk with them in an environment where they are now teaching. That would give you a sense of the range of teacher quality. So, until we can do that, we're stuck with a set of performances and artifacts, and then we are deducing from those what teacher quality is. Because it's on a statewide level now, it's pretty much around licensure. Now thatnot to say that I don't think we should have licensure. I think we should, but I think that licensure is a floor; it's not a ceiling.

RS: So how does this issue of definition affect who gets in the classroom?

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