International Education Washington

Report to House Education Committee 12/1/2004


Michele Anciaux Aoki was invited to address the House Education Committee on 12/1/2004

Questions to Address

Dear Presenters:

Thank you very much for your agreement to participate in a legislative work session for the House Education Committee on December 1, 2004.  The subject of the work session is "Addressing the Achievement Gap."  The purpose of the work session is to provide policymakers with data and information that illuminates the role of culture in academic achievement.  I am particularly interested in having expert testimony about how children of color can meet rigorous academic standards when the teaching methodology accommodates culturally diverse ways of seeing, communicating, and knowing.

To help prepare you for the work session, I am proposing some key questions that I hope you will address in your presentation:
1.  What does it mean to be "culturally competent"?  (Examples of demonstrating "culturally competence")
2.  Is "cultural competency" teachable?  (Examples of teaching "cultural competency")
3.  How is "cultural competency" measured?
4.  Why is "cultural competency" a desirable or necessary skill?  (Concrete examples of data and or information)

As a forewarning, the term "cultural competency" is perceived as a "loaded" term; so is "diversity."  So, if you have suggestions for another term instead of "cultural competency"  to describe the skills, aptitudes, and attitudes one must acquire to operate smoothly and successfully in a global and multicultural environment, I would appreciate your feedback in advance of the work session.

In addition, Doreen Cato and I attended a brainstorming meeting to discuss a plan of action for HB 2761, the so-called Multi-Ethnic Think Tank bill (METT) which served as the impetus for this work session.  [Although it is in the process of being rewritten, I would commend the document to your attention as a framework for our discussion.]  When Doreen asked if she should respond to all of these questions or to focus on one of the questions, I suggested that we have an on-line "chat" about your preferences.  I have no preference as long as all of the questions are addressed.

Finally, I would invite all of you to spend a minute or two of your introduction describing the work with which you are currently occupied that bears upon the subject at hand.

Thank you, again, for your participation in this important discussion. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my legislative assistant, Frances Youn, at (206) 587-5549.  If you have any logistical needs (e.g., equipment, etc.), you may contact Susan Morrissey, Committee staff, at (360) 786-7111.

Best Regards,
Sharon Tomiko Santos

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Michele Anciaux Aoki -- Testimony to the House Education Committee

Dear Members of the House Education Committee, and, in particular, Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to your committee.

My name is Michele Anciaux Aoki. Since June, 2004, I have been Director of Educational Programs - Global Classroom at the World Affairs Council in Seattle, but my involvement in international education extends a lifetime. I am here today representing the Washington State Coalition for International Education, a grassroots alliance of over 200 individuals and organizations that support the goal of preparing all students for today's interconnected world.

The Coalition was an outgrowth of the work of the team of four that represented our state at the first States Institute on International Education in Washington, DC, in November, 2002. Since that time the Coalition has staged two very successful International Education Summits, the first held at the University of Washington in Seattle in September, 2003, and the second in Olympia on October 27, 2004. The state has also sent teams back to the States Institute in 2003 and 2004. I have been honored to be a member of those State Teams the past three years, as well as grant writer, project director, and webmaster for the Coalition. (Refer to:

One of the first questions that the International Education Coalition tackled at our first focus group in March, 2003, was "What is international education"? Our answer to that question will probably make it clear why I was invited today to speak to the question of "cultural competence."

Refer to handout: You'll see that for us, our vision of preparing all students for the world today includes our belief that "Every child needs cultural competence."

The working definition of International Education that we have been using is this:
International Education means learning the knowledge and skills needed to understand and to function productively in today’s interconnected world.

Let me deconstruct that definition a bit. First, we believe there are knowledge and skills that can be learned -- and can be taught.

Second, we believe that the world today is interconnected. It is no longer enough to envision that the goal of education is to prepare students to be citizens of the U.S. Our nation does not exist in isolation. Our entire economy is highly dependent on trade throughout the world. Our security depends on how we deal with global issues, such as terrorism, and work together with other nations to solve challenges, such as proliferation of nuclear weapons. Our health depends on knowing about and responding to crises that span national borders, such as SARS, Mad Cow Disease, and AIDS. Our citizens expect to contribute to making the world a better place -- as evidenced by their generosity of time, money, and sometimes their lives in their work throughout the world for organizations, such as Mercy Corps, the Peace Corps, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, and the US Military.

Third, we believe that students (and the entire education community) need to understand that this interconnectedness is now. It's already upon us; it is not some theoretical future that we can start thinking about once all kids can read.

Fourth, we believe that Americans will be at a handicap -- they will not be able to function productively -- in this interconnected world if they can't understand and make use of the cultural connections within our communities and beyond our borders.

Let me turn now to the questions you posed to us.

1. What does it mean to be "culturally competent"? (Examples of demonstrating "culturally competence")

I am a well-traveled person and have lived in a variety of other cultures both inside and outside the U.S. But, I will begin with an example of my own cultural insensitivity. In a recent visit to the Seattle Islamic School, I had met and shaken hands with several of the female teachers while we toured the building. As we went into the faculty room, someone stopped to introduce me to one of the male teachers. I extended by hand, and he shook his head. I immediately realized my faux-pas. It was not culturally appropriate for him to shake my hand.

Being "culturally competent" does not mean that you know or remember every possible detail of etiquette from another culture. It does mean that you do the best you can to respect another culture's etiquette, you recognize when you have violated another culture's norms, you handle the situation with sensitivity, and most important, you acknowledge that culture's norms without judgment.

2. Is "cultural competence" teachable? (Examples of teaching "cultural competency")

Cultural competence is difficult to "teach" except through experience. But there are myriad ways to convey experience.

What is so powerful about learning another language or exploring a different art form or creating a presentation on a challenging world issue is that you can begin to actually see yourself in someone else's shoes. The "competence" part comes when you have had enough different experiences like this to make it possible to almost anticipate the cultural differences. In this way, you're prepared for anything and instead of focusing on your reaction to what is different ("that's stupid or yucky or weird" etc.), you can actually take it in and begin to see things as they are.

I would like to share the following comments from my good friend, Professor Walter Parker at the University of Washington:

I don't doubt that cultural competence is learned, and I don't doubt that it can be taught. Teaching requires both an "intended" (planned) and an "enacted" (taught) curriculum, plus a "null" curriculum (stuff that you're not going to even try to teach). There's always a gap between the intended and enacted curricula, of course. But still, children stand a much better chance of learning something if it's planned and taught than if it's not planned or taught.

How best to enact an intended curriculum is always a contested issue. Experientialists believe in that approach and doubt the effectiveness of formal teaching; direct instruction advocates believe in the other way. Both sides have evidence. I can imagine both kinds of instruction on "cultural competence." In civic education, where I live mostly, this debate is at least a century old and is normally referred to as the knowledge-engagement tension, or the overt/covert curriculum tension.

Can teachers develop their/our cultural competence? Sure. One simple way is by learning about our students' cultures. I learned lots about Hamilton International Middle School students today at the 8th-grade poster display. If these were my students, I'd study each poster, then ask each student lots of follow-up questions. Teachers who don't inquire about their culturally different (from themselves) students know lots less than those who do. One of the 8th grade teachers today told me what she had learned about some of her students through the project. Meanwhile, at Cleveland [High School] I heard two seniors, both immigrants, tell me their arrival story.

-- Walter Parker, personal communication

On this note, I would simply agree that taking the time to hear each others' stories is a little-used, but oh, so valuable way to build the road toward cultural competence. (Read, for example, the World Citizen Essay Contest essays about refugees:

In my experience, one thing that has not worked is trying to develop cultural competence by only looking inward. In our desire to better understand the multicultural richness within our nation, our states, and our cities and schools, we have too often placed the majority culture in opposition to the minority culture. We look to the single Japanese American student in our classroom to be the voice of Japanese culture. We expect each African American child to represent Africa (which is, of course, an entire continent of many nations, cultures, and languages).

What is wonderful in schools with an international or global focus is that the students within our classrooms are able to sit side by side as they learn about peoples across the globe. As they build competency in understanding the cultures beyond the classroom, they develop a curiosity that extends into the classroom itself. This allows students to see what they share in common even as they explore how they are different.

3. How is "cultural competence" measured?

One way that we have approached measuring or gaining insight into cultural competence in the students at Hamilton International Middle School in Seattle is through a student questionnaire that we developed with the Center for Applied Linguistics. (See: We have given the survey to students in the Japanese and Spanish language programs and we hope to track the student responses over time. An example question is:

Learning about other peoples and places will help me get along better with people who are different from me.
[Strongly Agree] [Agree] [Disagree] [Strongly Disagree]

Will the multicultural and international experiences of the students at Hamilton influence how the students think about learning about different peoples and places?

We have some UW Education students doing statistical analysis of the data from last spring. When we have the reports finished, I'd be happy to share them with you.

I can think of another interesting way to assess cultural competence, and that is to ask international visitors who go to our schools (which is something we do in Global Classroom) to evaluate their experience. Did the students (and teacher!) make you feel comfortable? Did the students ask you questions that showed curiosity about your culture? Did they seem to know some basic facts, such as where your country is located, what language is spoken there, a little about your history or current issues facing your country?

I hope we would never reduce measuring cultural competence to something like a multiple choice test, such as
"Where do people eat tacos? (A) China (B) Mexico (C) France (D) Antarctica"
I have a work-study student this year who just returned from four years teaching English in China. While in Beijing, she helped a friend open a Mexican restaurant. So, I'm quite sure that there are people eating tacos in China these days.

4. Why is "cultural competence" a desirable or necessary skill? (Concrete examples of data and or information)

"Cultural competence" is a critical life skill in the 21st century. Regardless of the education or career path our students take, they will encounter diverse perspectives, from within our borders and beyond.

You have only to talk to our major state businesses, such as Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, and the wine producers, to see that they "get it" about cultural competence. They are looking for employees who will help them grow their businesses internationally.

Talk to the political parties -- both Democrats and Republicans -- that made huge efforts to garner the Hispanic and African American vote in the recent election. They need campaign volunteers who have the cultural competence to reach out to the voting population, regardless of their race or ethnic background.

Truly it is not worth spending another moment debating whether cultural competence is a desirable or necessary skill. The question is what will the Legislature do to ensure that our education system is producing students who are culturally competent?

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Links to Handouts

Here are a few pages that I think would be helpful to the committee:

Washington State Coalition for International Education
About the Coalition:
State Team:
What is International Education?
Shaping the Future of International Education:

National Coalition for International Education
International Studies Schools:
Principles of Learning:

NY Review of Books article that has insight into the achievement gap
"Must Schools Fail?" by Richard Rothstein

ASCD Educational Leadership article
"The Threat of Stereotype" by Joshua Aronson:

Report on the June 2002 Washington Center for Improving the Quality of UndergraduateEducation
Report:  (Word)
p. 11: "Link Global Studies with diversity in the U.S."

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What does it mean to be culturally competent?

It requires the ability to recognize that as an individual one works within a mental framework, a framework that is only one framework of countless in this world,
it requires the ability to reflect on one's words and behaviors and how they affect others,
it requires the ability to identify one's assumptions and furthermore to suspend one's assumptions,
it requires to communicate verbally in the language of the one you are speaking with,
it requires the capacity for compassion and non-judgement,
it requires the ability for genuine, honest interaction with others
it requires specific skills, knowledge and experiences with people who have have notably different skills, knowledge and experience then the one's you have and this could include your neighbor or someone all the way across the globe

-- Aysha Haq, Project Manager P-20 International Education Summit: Building Global Relationships

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Gaining cross-cultural insights

“Important and unexpected new insights often come when cross-cultural connections are made. The partnership between high school students in South Africa and Roosevelt High School students is a case in point. After a year of on-going correspondence between classrooms in the two schools, several students and teachers from South Africa visited Roosevelt students briefly as a way to further the learning relationship. As the Roosevelt students explored the struggles with racism in South Africa and the solutions black South Africans had employed to reconcile the large societal splits along racial lines, the South African students began to encourage the Roosevelt students to explore racial splits in their own community. The Roosevelt students (primarily Caucasian) were somewhat startled and surprised as they came to the realization that some of the same kinds of racial splits existed in their own community, noting the tensions between Roosevelt students and Cleveland High School, a school with a very high percentage of African-Americans. As a result, the Roosevelt students determined that they would take a pro-active response to engaging in a series of face to face discussions with Cleveland students to try to better understand the barriers between the students that cut across racial lines, and employ some of the same mediation and reconciliation methods the South African students and community had used successfully. The Roosevelt students have reported some very important lessons learned through this process, not the least of which is that we have more in common across our borders than we sometimes think.”

-- Greg Tuke, Director, Schools of the World

From the National Coalition on International Education

Question 1:

See Asia in the Schools, page 36. It is a description of knowledge and attitudes that develop through international and multicultural learning. It was in part adapted from a Washington State OSPI document titled "International Education Curriculum Guidelines" from 1988. If "attitude" is a base, then students can develop the knowledge, skills that will lead to success in the 21st century.

See Asia in the Schools, page 14, call-out box. Peter Kiang, a professor of education and multicultural studies at U Mass Boston, prepared a short narrative example of what diversity is, which leads the reader to ponder how complex and simultaneously basic/human cultural competency is. In today's world, people aren't defined by simple categories anymore. This lends to your opening statement of a porous connection between international education and cultural competency.

Mavin Foundation has a statistic that in Washington State (and Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii), after Caucasians, mixed race has the highest birthrate than any other Census-classified ethnicity.

Question 2:

Highlight technology's role. Through school-to-school linkages, students can learn with, not about the other. Several schools in Washington (thanks to Kristi's good work) have been leaders in this type of real-world application in cultural competency. Beyond cultural competency, research shows that this type of learning builds leadership skills as well as math and literacy skills.

Question 3:

Good question! I would stress that a research base is being developed and then cite some early statistics from language immersion, public opinion surveys, knowledge surveys, teacher prep surveys that point to infusing international education, thus cultural competency, in schools. See Vivien's testimony before Congress. ( Different issue, but there are some collected stats that might perk up some ears.

Question 4:

Vivien's testimony also outlines some workforce and security issues. One in six jobs is now tied to international trade (this number may be higher in Washington). Education is our #5 export (which means encouraging lots of international students to come to our schools). Chinese will be the new primary language on the Internet in five years. In order for our students to take advantage of these opportunities, we must start now to develop culturally and linguistically competent children.

-- Grace Norman, the Asia Society

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To address question #4 from Rep. Tomiko Santos, my office put together this information and data showing our state's international economy and businesses require cultural competence to be successful: In particular, please see the fact sheet and talking points. For example, 60% of Microsoft's sales and 70% of Boeing's sales are international. Also, for our state it is actually 1 in 3 jobs tied to international trade (1 in 6 is the national average).

No region in the United States is more tied to international business and the international economy than the Puget Sound region. Whether you are a banker, barista or barber you are part of the global economy. If one in three jobs is tied to international business then one in three customers of every barber earns his income because of international trade. Our region's research institutions, universities, small and medium sized businesses, ports and cultural organizations all rely on international connections to remain competitive. (12/1/2004)

-- Lili Hein, Trade Development Alliance of Puget Sound

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Assessing Cultural Competency

[Excerpts of an email to Carey Moore]

Insights from:
Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim, Lynne deBenedette, Monique Fecteau. "Cultural Competence: Evaluating what our Students are Really Learning." ACTFL Conference Presentation, 2004.

Though I work from a foreign language background, I am very interested in cultural/culture education in education policy.

My first reaction to your questions is: in the realm of education in the US, one could argue that there is distinction between "cultural learning" and "intercultural learning". "Culture learning" is developing a sense for the diversity in cultures and of oneself as being part of a specific culture, sub-culture or culture blend. "Intercultural learning" focuses more on learning how to interact satisfactorily with or in other cultures.

There is a great deal of controversy about the terms "intercultural competence" "intercultural competency" "cultural competence" etc. The arguments rage. As I delineated in the session, I prefer to look at culture learning in terms of specific, assessable goals/skills and I work with my students toward those goals. Exactly which overriding term gets used to categorize what my students can do better at the end of my somewhat less important to me currently.

The trick in educational policy is striking a balance between recognizing cultural diversity among our students (with the different preferences for interpreting, communicating and demonstrating achievement) and still obtaining comparable measures of success (diachronically and synchronically).

While we continue to build skills necessary for success in our society, there must be ways to eliminate from "the Achievement Gap" the disparities resulting not from skill and ability as much as from the measure used to test achievement.

Perhaps the answer lies in finding equivalent if not equal measures, for fairness is not giving everyone the exact same thing but giving each one within reason what she needs to do her best. We do not adopt different standards for different students, but we can accept different measures of success.

I should relish the chance to "inform" policymakers about the role of culture in academic achievement (where sub-culture clash, racism and ethnocentrism permeate) and in education policy. (It's so much more than Kimonos and Sauerkraut and the Mexican Hat Dance!).

If you need some background/qualifications at least for me: I have a Ph.D. in German-English Applied Linguistics, teach German language and culture, am developing a new model for foreign language learning at the university which adopts an intercultural approach to language learning (the project is called Auf geht's! and was funded by a FIPSE grant), and am the Chair of the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) National Task Force on Culture Learning.

Best regards,
*-Pennylyn Dykstra Pruim

-- shared by Carey Moore, Pacific Village Institute

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International Education - Models of Success

  1. Press release from iEARN on assessment of global collaborations:
    > Kid-to-Kid Communications Reap Surprising Rewards (PDF)

  2. International Education for Students in Washington State
    > Kristi Rennebohm Franz's Report to the Legislature (PDF)

  3. What educators in other countries think about International Education
    > Greetings to Washington Educators (PDF)

  4. Why is International Education important?
    > OneWorld Now! Student Voices (PDF)

-- Kristi Rennebohm Franz, iEARN

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