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Equity Principle

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Transcript of the podcast located at http://itunes.vcu.edu under the VDOE's T/TAC at VCU icon:

 

In this podcast, we’re going to direct our attention to the hallowed halls of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (or NCTM), in all of their glory, with taped-up glasses and pocket protectors! This esteemed group or professionals has published six basic principles for school mathematics. The principles address equity, curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment, and technology. Sounds good, right? But what do they really mean? Let’s think about the first one: the principle of equity.

 

Equity is a pretty good math word-all of us, numerophobes and mathophiles, are pretty good with the word “equal.” Equity is a related word, with “all men (and women!) are created equal” springing to mind. The good men and women of NCTM are on the same page as we are. Their equity principle states that, “Excellence in mathematics education requires equity—high expectations and strong support for all students.” Whoa, Nelly! Hold the boat! We know, deep in our hearts, that in the real world all doesn’t mean all. Promotion and retention rules in schools mean that students get tracked early on-even with the best intentions of the teachers who work with them each day. So what should we be aiming towards?

 

NCTM wants us to give all students, no matter what personal characteristics, backgrounds, or physical challenges they might have, the same opportunities to study mathematics. They also go so far as to say that –all students must have the support to learn—that’s going to take us down a road that hits on scaffolding and spiraling later on in this series.

 

Our math-y friends are quick to point out that this does not mean that all students are treated the same way. Instead, they say that every student who comes to school must have access to a well-structured and challenging mathematics curriculum that is taught by competent and well-supported mathematics teachers.

 

Lots and lots of students are victims of low expectations in mathematics. Wow, that’s some strong language-but it’s the same wording that the NCTM folks used in the principle! But think about it: lots of students who are from low-income families, don’t speak English as a first language, or have a disability are placed in lower-level math classes. Students who are female or belong to a minority group are also often challenged less. The NCTM folks have noted that “tracking has consistently consigned disadvantaged groups of students to mathematics classes that concentrate on remediation or do not offer significant mathematical substance.” How fair is that? Well, that doesn’t take much thought. It’s not.

 

So, what are we going to do to make it fair? NCTM says we should expect that some students need more than just a well-structured curriculum and really good teachers to meet high expectations. These kids are going to need to be in a cool and engaging after-school program, work with other kids in a peer mentoring situation, or get into cross-age tutoring with older students. A lot of this is either already going on or is being out into place right this minute. And this minute. And this one…and this one… OK, so I’ve made the point-those supports are slowly emerging. (We could argue about why they are emerging-and some of you would say that this is only due to high-stakes testing and not due to the belief in equitable outcomes for all, but I’m not arguing about that today. I tell you what: invite some folks over for dinner tonight and hash it out with them.)

 

One point about equity that I will linger on for a moment or two is that students with disabilities-especially those with learning disabilities in the area of mathematics- should be supported by both their classroom teachers and knowledgeable special education staff. Two big and somewhat ominous points are made in this seemingly innocuous statement. The first is that kids with disabilities should be in the room where the well-structured curriculum is being taught by the really good teachers who have high expectations! This is a much bigger issue than it sounds to be on the surface, but NCTM points out that this access is not a “nice to have” but a “must have.” The second thing that stands out in the statement “students with disabilities-especially those with learning disabilities in the area of mathematics- should be supported by both their classroom teachers and knowledgeable special education staff” is the word “knowledgeable.” How can a special education teacher who does not understand the basic foundations and structures of math help a student with a math disability? Would be ask a teacher who could not read past a second grade level to help a student with a reading disability? It’s a harsh truth that we need to work hard to help all students; no exceptions. We must challenge ourselves to be successful in math to make sure that our students are supported so that eventually they can be successful in math as well.

 

Sounds like a lot of work! But NCTM reminds us that there are many “well-documented examples demonstrate[ing] that all children can learn math…when they have access to high-quality math… instruction.” We need to make sure that we do this-not just a few “super” teachers, but all of us! Think about it: none of us want our own kids to go to school and have a lousy experience or feel that they can’t learn something. That’s why the first NCTM principle is the equity principle: “demand[ing] that high expectations for mathematics learning be communicated in words and deeds to all students.”

 

Want to learn more about the NCTM Principles? Visit standards.nctm.org.

 

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