Aug 082017

This question has been on my mind since I finished reviewer the submissions to the NCSM National Conference. This was my third year as a reviewer, and this year I noticed something very …. different. I was assigned 17 out of 18 articles in the “Equity” strand, so I read many submissions that were supposedly in the same strand. I say ‘supposedly’ because, in my opinion, they weren’t. Not at all.

Of the 17 submissions, four submissions were straight up, this is how you (as a teacher) differentiate instruction for learners with learning disabilities. Is this equity? I am not sure. I suggested they be moved to the instruction strand, because I do not consider a narrow focus on differentiation to be equity.

Another six submissions were about differentiation, but not narrowly focused. These submissions were about how to differentiate summative or formative assessments, or instruction, or discussion, so that all learners would have the opportunity to access the course content. These are more along what I consider equity, but I still have reservations.

The last group were very much in line with my idea of equity, and were concerning how to modify teacher practice to allow for under-represented groups to access course content at a high level.

These submissions challenged me to think about what is Equity in mathematics education.

After spending three days at TMC17 thinking and discussing Equity with Grace Chen as one of the leaders, I am still not convinced that the four submissions are about equity.

I think that addressing equity is more than a narrow focus on learners with disabilities, but must be a larger discussion about the inequities that exist in our classrooms. However, the IDEA was enacted because there were severe inequities in how special education learners were treated in classrooms.

But, is a narrow focus on special education learners equity?

I still say no.

Equity in the mathematics classroom is not about differentiation, but about teaching the content in such a way that each learner identifies with the content in such a way they are able to see themselves in the material. More importantly, the learner is then able to use the content in such a way that they take it and change their world with it. For example, in this AVID video, education is definitely something the learners here are using to change their world. 

This ideal of equity comes out of Freire and Gutstein’s ideas on equity. It is not focused specifically on a race or ethnicity, however this ideal does focus on giving learners who have been historically disenfranchised a connection with content they have been denied in the past.

Will all learners benefit from this? Sure. But learners who are from disenfranchised populations will benefit the most. They have been denied access to a curriculum for a long time, and gaining access to it in a way that will allow the learners to enact change is powerful.

This, to me, is what the definition of equity includes. It certainly is not an exhaustive definition, and I need to think and read more to expand it. It is my starting place, however. Give each learner the ability to connect with the mathematics content in such a way they can gain mastery over it and use the content to change their world.