Identity Matters

From Evidence-free to Evidence-based Policies for Promoting Achievement among Students from Marginalized Social Groups


  • Jim Cummins University of Toronto



literacy, Education policy, Diversity, identity, bilingual, Second language, low-income students


Policies designed to improve educational outcomes in the United States (and many other countries) over the past decade have failed to raise overall achievement or close the gap between middle-class and low-income students in any significant way. Little tangible impact is evident despite the expenditure of billions of dollars ($6 billion for the Reading First program alone). Alienated adolescents, primarily from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, continue to drop out of high school in large numbers. I argue that the persistent failure of educational policies designed to close the achievement gap is largely a result of implementing evidence-free policies and instructional practices. Policy-makers have chosen to ignore extensive empirical evidence suggesting the following: (a) factors associated with socioeconomic status (SES) and broader patterns of societal power relations exert a major influence on educational outcomes; (b) literacy engagement is a stronger predictor of reading performance than socioeconomic status (SES), and low-income students have significantly less access to books and print than do higher-income students; (c) students will engage academically only to the extent that classroom interactions and academic effort are identity-affirming. The framework proposed for stimulating school-based policy discussions argues that school polices need to maximize print access and literacy engagement among marginalized group students and in addition that they need to enable students to use language and literacy in ways that will affirm their identities and challenge the deficit orientation that is frequently built into programs and curriculum for low-income and bilingual learners.

Author Biography

Jim Cummins, University of Toronto

Jim Cummins is a Canada Research Chair in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on literacy development in multilingual school contexts as well as on the potential roles of technology in promoting language and literacy development. He is the author of Language, Power and Pedagogy: Bilingual Children in the Crossfire (Multilingual Matters, 2001) and, with Margaret Early, of Identity Texts: The Collaborative Creation of Power in Multilingual Schools (Trentham Books, 2011).


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How to Cite

Cummins, J. (2011). Identity Matters: From Evidence-free to Evidence-based Policies for Promoting Achievement among Students from Marginalized Social Groups. Writing and Pedagogy, 3(2), 189–216.



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