New Reports Examine Inequity in Math Ed, Offer Steps Forward
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
has issued two extensive publications — one for elementary educators
and the other for middle school educators — on how to help all
students view themselves as "capable learners and doers" of
math. The latest reports are follow-ons to one issued in 2018
and are meant to serve as a callout to school and district leaders,
teachers and others to "confront inequitable policies and
practices" in math education, many of which have become
especially evident since the onset of COVID-19.
the organization noted, children's early math success (as early as
age 5) serves as a "predictor" for later success in both
math and education. Yet there are structures and practices put in
place in those early years, the authors have argued, that either
"contribute significantly" to students' success and
confidence with math or limit it.
an example, NCTM pointed to the use of "ability grouping"
and tracking students, which the council called "inequitable,"
since their use tends to steer students into "qualitatively
different courses." According to the reports, these practices
"perpetuates privilege for a few and marginality for others."
The middle school report offered a story profiling how that might
play out in one math classroom, where the "advanced"
students are encouraged by the teacher to take on extra work once
they've completed the initial problem; those who are struggling are
pushed to take their questions to the afternoon session with their
specialist; and the bilingual students are reminded to speak English
as they're working on the problem.
reports also emphasized the importance of using math instruction that
was "consistent with research-informed and equitable teaching
practices," which can help nurture students' sense of confidence
in their math "identities" and inspire them to continue
with further learning.
organization also promoted the importance of schools helping their
students build a "strong foundation of deep mathematical
understanding" through pathways that might vary by grade level
but ensure that each child is getting a "high-quality" math
in learning opportunities and outcomes in mathematics education on
the basis of race, class, culture, language, gender and ability
status are still too far prevalent," concluded DeAnn Huinker, a
professor of math education and the lead writer for "Catalyzing
Change in Early Childhood and Elementary Mathematics." "All
stakeholders must examine beliefs about who is capable of doing and
understanding mathematics, disrupt existing inequitable practices and
catalyze change toward creating a just, equitable and inclusive
system in early childhood and elementary mathematics."
middle school experience is a rich place where they further develop
deep mathematical understanding in ways that build on and extend
previous knowledge but also empower them to understand and critique
their world," added Sarah Bush, an associate professor in K-12
STEM education at the University of Central Florida and lead writer
of "Catalyzing Change in Middle School Mathematics," in a
statement. "The mathematics learned in middle school is
extremely important. How we think about teaching students and
preparing our educators may need to shift focus, especially in the
current environment. Stakeholders involved with middle school
mathematics are in a position with endless potential to make a
difference in the lives of young adolescents."
through October, NCTM is hosting and recording a series of Zoom
webinars, in a program called "100
Days of Professional Learning,"
including numerous sessions that examine aspects of the reports.
Those are openly available for registration and viewing on the NCTM
website. The reports themselves can be ordered through
the organization's Catalyzing Change landing page.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.