Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kris D.Gutierrez

Second Advisor

Susan Jurow

Third Advisor

Kevin Welner

Fourth Advisor

Ruben Donato

Fifth Advisor

Daryl Maeda


This case study explores educators' conceptions of culture and multicultural education in four schools (three elementary and one middle), in a relatively large urban district in the state of New Mexico, where multicultural education policies have been in place and supported since the early 1970s. A great deal has been written regarding both effective pedagogical practices and the relationship between educators' beliefs about their students (racial biases, setting high expectations, etc.) and their students' academic success. However, understanding the forces that influence and shape local educators' conceptions of culture and multicultural education remains a relatively unexplored area. Because the purpose of multicultural education has always been to increase equity for students from non-dominant backgrounds or, in other words, those who are more likely to be negatively impacted by teacher bias and reductive notions of culture, this omission needed to be addressed. In order to study these influences, interviews with two focal teachers at each of four participating schools, the principals of all four schools, and district level administrators were used as the primary data source; however, there were observations, additional interviews, and two focus groups as data sources as well. The results of the analysis indicated that educators' conceptions of culture and multicultural education are most significantly influenced by personal experiences. Further, the data suggested that certain types of experiences related to the development of particular conceptions of culture and understandings of learning. In related analyses to explore whether these educators' conceptions were connected to their pedagogical practices in predictable ways, the data suggested that educators' chose and implemented multicultural education practices idiosyncratically. In other words, their reported practices were not necessarily consistent with their reported conceptions of culture and multicultural education. These findings may be particularly useful for teacher preparation and professional development programs as they illuminate potential entry points for helping prospective and current teachers develop more robust notions of culture and better understand its central role in learning processes. Based on the study results, I suggest that multicultural education programs, practices, and policies, could potentially be more effective if they were based on robust conceptions of culture and were more tightly aligned to expansive theories of learning such as sociocultural theory.