A Renewed Focus on Access, Equity, and Empowerment
By Matt Larson, NCTM PresidentSeptember 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:
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.
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.
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
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.