Academic journal article High School Journal

Towards Design of Clarifying Equity Messages in Mathematics Reform

Academic journal article High School Journal

Towards Design of Clarifying Equity Messages in Mathematics Reform

Article excerpt

The introduction of the No Child Left Behind has brought renewed national attention to the persistence of achievement gaps in education and, in particularly, has challenged the mathematics education community to revisit its long stated commitment to removing achievement disparities in school mathematics. Longstanding equity messages in mathematics reform as encapsulated in the hallmark slogan, mathematics for all, have been articulated and widely circulated in reform documents over the last 20 years, but not well incorporated into many of the mathematics classrooms comprised of minority students, multi-language speakers, and students with disabilities. Employing an engineering mindset to frame the article, the purpose of this article is to illuminate some of the problematic features of equity articulation over the last 20 years, examine perspectives from two recent national meetings in Maryland and Washington, DC, and offer perspectives towards the design of a reconceptualized, more robust equity message. Seven constraints have been extracted from these perspectives. The constraints range from utilizing an outcome-focused definition of equity and an articulation of condition-based inequities, to incorporating a critical base of research and pedagogy. These constraints are discussed and future directions and applications for design are posed.

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The introduction of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation into schooling communities over the last three years has produced a steady stream of criticism, even panic, regarding the attainment of equity in achievement outcomes for all students. The criticisms featuring such commentaries like "Why George Bush's "No Child Left Behind Flunks Out," (Goodman, Shannon, Goodman, & Rapoport, 2004) and others (see Marshak, 2003; Sternberg, 2004), feature prominently among the landscape of educator magazines, journals and listservs. These commentaries have consistently echoed serious flaws of the reform, pointing to NCLB's punitive affect on deserving schools, narrow interpretations of essential school content, over reliance on standardized testing and political heavy-handedness. With persistent mathematics achievement disparities on standardized tests for the ethnic subgroups targeted under NCLB (AERA, 2004; African-American Student Achievement Committee, 2001; SEF South Carolina Task Force and Advisory Committee, 2002), a chief concern for local districts and schools under the new legislation, meeting the provisions of NCLB has become a major reality for the mathematics education community and its own reforms efforts.

Despite the current criticism, an affect of NCLB has been to challenge the status quo of schooling traditions which have been framed to serve limited numbers of students. The punitive nature of the legislation has also served to recalculate the labels of "excellent" schools which do not do enough to help all groups of students achieve. Requiring that states meet annual targets for improved academic achievement of minority students, called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP has placed pressure on districts and schools to recommit to equity efforts. This, often, has not sat well with school teachers and educators who see AYP as "unrealistic" citing long-held positions of cultural deficit (parenting style of minority parents, culture of students, resources etc.) as evidence for why more minority students cannot achieve to levels of white students. For the most part, NCLB has brought renewed national attention to the existence of achievement gaps (Allexsaht-Snider & Hart, 2001; Bennet et al., 2004) in education and challenged the mathematics education community to revisit its long stated commitment of addressing achievement disparities in school mathematics.

The NCTM and Equity Ideology

Over the last quarter of a century the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has established itself as the prominent leader in mathematics education reform, and, to whom, much of the current equity "message" articulated in mathematics reform in the United States, Canada and beyond can be attributed. …

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