A Renewed Focus on Access, Equity, and Empowerment

  • A Renewed Focus on Access, Equity, and Empowerment

    A Renewed Focus on Access, Equity, and Empowerment

    By Matt Larson, NCTM President
    September 15, 2016

    In their joint position statement Mathematics Education Through the Lens of Social Justice: Acknowledgment, Actions, and Accountability, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and TODOS: Mathematics for ALL identify social justice as 

    a key priority in the access to, engagement with, and advancement in mathematics education for our country’s youth. A social justice stance requires a systemic approach that includes fair and equitable teaching practices, high expectations for all students, access to rich, rigorous, and relevant mathematics, and strong family/community relationships to promote positive mathematics learning and achievement. Equally important, a social justice stance interrogates and challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics education—and in society as a whole (NCSM & TODOS, 2016, p. 1).

    At its July meeting, the NCTM Board of Directors unanimously voted to endorse the NCSM/TODOS joint position statement. Challenged by Danny Martin’s critique of Principles to Actions at the NCTM Research Conference in Boston in 2015, NCTM began, with the help of critical friends, to question and reassess its equity stance, actions, and language. NCTM also began to increase its collaborative actions concerning access, equity, and empowerment issues in a manner that embraces excellence for each and every student. 

    NCTM has long written about access and equity, developing, perhaps most notably, the Equity Principle in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000), the NCTM position statement on Closing the Opportunity Gap in Mathematics Education, and, most recently, the Access and Equity Principle in Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All Students (NCTM, 2014). Yet, our need to refine, refocus, and build on these efforts is clear. We recognize that much of our work has focused on standards, curriculum, instructional practices, and assessment, and that we have too often addressed these issues in decontextualized ways that have frequently ignored the experiences and realities of children’s lives. We are committed to making our actions consistent with our words to give them full power and impact.

    Simply put, NCTM has traditionally concerned itself with advocating for students to have access to the mathematics. Each and every student’s access to a rigorous and coherent curriculum, coupled with highly effective instruction, remains a significant challenge in the United States (see 2013–2014 Civil Rights Data Collection—First Look from the U.S. Department of Education). Significant structural obstacles, including tracking and teacher assignments that disadvantage students who have been marginalized, remain unacceptable practices in too many schools. Moving forward, NCTM pledges to devote more attention to what happens to students once they have access to rigorous mathematics courses. We need to ensure that no student is denied high-quality learning through his or her experiences in the classroom. Equity requires excellence for each and every student.
    In addition to endorsing the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and TODOS joint position statement on mathematics education and social justice, NCTM will strive to transform its vision and actions. This initiative is moving forward on multiple fronts:

    • The NCTM Board has officially reframed its equity work to focus on Access, Equity and Empowerment to capture the critical constructs of students’ mathematical identities, sense of agency, and social justice. The Board has modified its strategic priorities to reflect this reframing of NCTM’s scope to include more than just access and equity.

    • Under the leadership of Diane Briars, NCTM hosted an Equity Initiative Meeting (March 2016) with representatives from some of our major Affiliates, including TODOS, NCSM, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics, and the Benjamin Banneker Association. Through dialogue and conversations, participants worked to build common ground, fostering greater collaboration among these leading organizations to address these critical issues and hold one another accountable for actions moving forward.

    • NCTM has joined a number of other mathematics education organizations, including NCSM, TODOS, Benjamin Banneker, and AMTE this year in participating in A Call for A Collective Action to Develop Awareness: Equity and Social Justice in Education.

    • NCTM has committed itself to monitoring its language to ensure that students are positioned as having assets and not deficits.

    • Equity and empowerment will be included deliberately and thoughtfully in the forthcoming Principles to Actions Elaborations Series grade-band instructional books.

    • The Elaboration book addressing the Access and Equity Principle will embrace the additional concept of empowerment by including the topics of student identity, agency, and teaching mathematics for social justice.

    • Access, Equity, and Empowerment will be the focus of NCTM’s 2017 Innov8 conference in Las Vegas (November 15–17).

    • The 2018 Annual Perspectives in Mathematics Education will address issues surrounding access, equity, and empowerment. The volume’s working title is Rehumanizing Mathematics Teaching and Learning for Students Who Are Latina and Black.

    • A Curriculum Resources Collaboration Center on NCTM.org is being developed with the Math Forum. On this site educators will be able to share and collaborate on lessons and instructional challenges. Educators developing and using social justice learning experiences and those addressing issues of equity, identity, and opportunity in their mathematics classrooms will have spaces to collaborate, develop ideas, and to share them with the larger community.

    • The NCTM Board and staff are engaging in their own professional learning on issues surrounding access, equity, and empowerment. This includes a common book study devoted to The Impact of Identity on K–8 Mathematics: Rethinking Equity Based Practices. The Board and staff will also engage in professional development on the impact of microaggressions in the classroom in an effort to deepen individual understanding of these critical issues.

    We recognize that these actions are not enough. Rather, they reflect our start and our commitment. And these are specific actions consistent with NCTM’s vision statement, which states in part: “We envision a world where everyone is enthused about mathematics, sees the value and beauty of mathematics, and is empowered by the opportunities mathematics affords.” The emphasis added by the boldface signals the emphasis that NCTM intends to give to the empowerment of each and every student through mathematics. 

    For, as mathematics teachers, we are engaged in something much bigger than the daily tasks of curriculum selection, instruction, and assessment. Mathematics is an essential analytical tool that we give to students to help them to better understand their context, experiences, and the world—and potentially to make the world a better place. Never has this been more important for each and every student and for our society. Many of our societal problems are increasingly formulated in mathematical terms, and their solutions frequently depend on mathematical understanding. Mathematics is essential not just to college and career readiness but also to informed and active members of our democratic society.

    Without a strong understanding of mathematics and a positive mathematical identity and sense of agency, students are unlikely to have the tools necessary to make effective choices in their own lives. Furthermore, without deep mathematical understanding and positive identity and agency, students are unlikely to be able to understand and challenge many of the decisions and actions of those in power. The future of our democratic society depends on our ensuring that each and every student is empowered by the opportunities that mathematics affords. I encourage you to make a commitment this year to engage with your colleagues to make issues of equity, access, and empowerment part of your professional discussions, your conscience, and your daily actions. NCTM is committed to collaborating with others to make this vision a reality.

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    Aaron Rumack - 11/11/2016 10:39:23 AM

    For years we have told kids "math is power." Providing opportunities in classwork for each and every student to experience what this might look like is an inspiring next step.

    Jim Barta - 9/15/2016 7:08:22 PM

    I am very encouraged to hear of the multiple efforts already underway and those still in development (Thank you, Presidents Larson, Briars, and others) to positively impact the mathematical identities, capabilities, and potential of all students. It appears this collaborate planning moves us closer to reducing the opportunity gap that has helped create long standing communities of 'haves' and 'have nots". I have long been of the opinion that we know what we need to do but have not had the heart to get it done. It remains to be seen if those days are over but it here appears that our chances are better than they have ever been.  

    Jim Barta, Mercer University


    John Staley - 9/15/2016 4:46:11 PM

    The combined efforts of many will begin to make a significant difference for all students. Empowerment and Excellence in mathematics! Our students deserve it and now is the time for the mathematics education community to make it happen. 

    John Staley, 

    President, NCSM