Florida's Dramatic Shift in Student Demographics: Implications for Mathematics Teacher Education

Article excerpt

In the Fall of 2003, Florida's public school student population shifted from majority white to majority nonwhite. This paper examines the implications of this demographic shift for the teaching of mathematics. The primary focus of this paper is to discuss an over-all strategy designed to improve the mathematics achievement of African-American students, who now constitute 25 percent of all Florida public school students. It is suggested that a starting point would be to increase the number of African-American mathematics teachers in Florida. Since the four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Florida produce more than 90 percent of Florida's African-American teacher education graduates, this writer recommends that these schools which are Florida A&M University, Bethune-Cookman College, Florida Memorial College and Edward Waters College substantially increase their programmatic efforts designed to recruit and train a cadre of highly qualified, competent African-American mathematics teachers for Florida's public schools.

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Silver, Smith, and Nelson (1995) have argued that "although the increasingly multicultural character of U.S. society and its public school population has not escaped the attention of most educators and policymakers, there is no general agreement about the instructional implications of this multiculturalism for mathematics or any other school subject" (p. 23).

In the Fall of 2003, Florida's public schools reached a historic milestone. For the very first time, the number of minority students enrolled in the State's public schools exceeded the number of majority students. See Table 1 for exact numbers and percentages of minority and majority students.

As a mathematics educator who has more than 30 years of experience teaching Black students at the secondary and university levels, primarily in the state of Florida, this writer understands many of the problems faced and issues involved in successfully teaching mathematics to minority students. This paper is my contribution to understanding the implications of multiculturalism for the mathematics education of Florida's African-American students.

The New Majority

Historically, the terms "majority" and "minority", when used in a demographic sense, have been interpreted to mean "white" and "nonwhite," respectively; hence, what the enrollment statistics listed in Table 1 really mean is that Florida now has, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future, a school system in which the majority of students are nonwhite.

The term "the new majority" is defined to mean the Black, Hispanic, Asian and other nonwhites who now number approximately 1.31 million or 50.25 percent of Florida public school students. White students now number approximately 1.29 million or 49.75 percent of the State's public school students.

Improving Black Students Mathematics Performance

African-Americans constitute the largest group of students in this new majority, numbering 620,426. They are followed by Hispanics who number 563,779. Hence, the primary focus of this paper is to explore strategies to improve the mathematics performance of the largest group of students in Florida's new majority--Black students.

A review of the literature does not reveal a significant number of studies specifically devoted to the mathematics performance of Black students; instead, Black students mathematics performance has been studied as a part of the over-all study of "minority" mathematics performance. As a result, Matthews (1983) argues that researchers do not "understand the differences between racial groups in the participation in, and the learning of, mathematics" (p. 70). Matthews (1983) further asserts that researchers' failure to understand racial group differences in mathematics "may be due to several questionable assumptions on which much past research has been based" (p. …