Frequently Asked Questions

For decades, America’s schools have tried and failed to close gaps on math test scores between White students and students of color. That’s not because math discriminates by race, and it’s not because some groups of students are inherently more suited to math. It’s because we give students of color and students from lower-income families the least access to critical resources, from the most qualified teachers to the best technology to the most advanced courses. And it’s because instructional materials and practices—even good ones—are influenced by culture and perspective.

When we think narrowly about teaching math, we create barriers for students; we allow them to fall into the trap of thinking they’re “not a math person.” But the truth is we can all be “math people.” The goal of  “A Pathway to Equitable Mathematics Instruction is to engage as many students as possible in not just solving math problems but understanding math concepts so they can apply them across a wide range of real-world applications. Math problems, of course, have correct answers. But students can arrive at the right answer without understanding the bigger concept or they can have an “aha” moment when they see why they got an answer wrong.

The toolkit was written by educators, and it doesn’t tell teachers how to do their job—it asks them to think about how they do it. For example, when we ask students to show their work, we should think about how and why. The point should be to have a dialogue about their process and their learning, not require every student to follow the exact same path to the right answer. A child of immigrants might have learned a different way to solve a problem because that’s how their parents were taught where they grew up. If we just tell that student their way is the wrong way, we risk turning them off to math for life. If we take the opportunity to explore why there are different ways to approach the same problem, it can be a learning moment for the entire class.

That’s what the equitable math toolkit is all about: engaging students from every background in a deep understanding of concepts that they can use for the rest of their lives.

For decades, schools in the United States have tried and failed to close gaps on math test scores between White students and students of color. At the rate we’re going, in California, Latinx students won’t all meet math standards until 2080, and Black students won’t meet math standards until 2097. That’s not because math discriminates by race, and it’s not because some groups of students are inherently more suited to math. It’s because we give students of color and students from lower-income families the least access to critical resources—from the most qualified teachers to the best technology to the most advanced courses. And it’s because instructional materials and practices—even good ones—are influenced by culture and perspective. This information isn’t new: even before the pandemic, schools and districts weren’t doing enough to support students to achieve in math classrooms. This is often due to students attending schools in communities with lower incomes and less funding, which is a structural issue across education systems that has historically impacted Black, Latinx, and multilingual students at disproportionate rates.
It’s not that students aren’t capable; schools and districts don’t have the necessary resources to serve all students well.

The disruptions to the school year due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 brought an opportunity for schools and districts to think differently about how and what to teach during this historic moment. The goal of the toolkit is to engage as many students as possible in not just solving math problems but understanding math concepts so they can apply them across a wide range of real-world applications.

With the pandemic disproportionately impacting communities of color, we saw a need to create and uplift curriculum and instructional guidance that kept students of color in mind and helped teachers with their planning for the 2021-22 school year. Each section, or “Stride” in the toolkit is designed around an innovative and research-proven approach to improving math achievement while considering the different needs of student groups. The toolkit was developed by over 25 education organizations to not tell teachers how to do their jobs but rather ask them to think about how they do it. Educators have requested this kind of transformative change for years. The toolkit provides resources and guidance for teachers, school leaders, and instructional coaches to implement research-based and equity-focused teaching practices while providing opportunities for ongoing reflection and professional growth.

The goal of the toolkit is to engage as many students as possible in not just solving math problems, but understanding math concepts so they can apply them across a wide range of real-world applications.

Equitable math instruction is the simple understanding that students and communities come from different backgrounds and may have different ways of being and thinking, even in math. Math problems, of course, have correct answers. And there are also a number of ways to get to the solution.

When we ask students to show their work, we should think about how and why. Are we looking for a singular way to get to an answer, or are we encouraging students to have a dialogue about their process and their learning? It is important to encourage critical thinking and foster the notion that there may be different paths to an answer.

Educators can choose between a wide range of approaches to teaching math, and these approaches have different outcomes. Students can arrive at the right answer without understanding the bigger concept; or they can have an “aha” moment when they see why they got an answer wrong. When we think narrowly about teaching math, we create barriers for students; we allow them to fall into the trap of thinking they’re “not a math person.” But the truth is we can all be “math people.”

For example, a student who is a child of immigrants might have learned a different way to solve a problem because that’s how their parents were taught where they grew up. If we just tell that student their way is the wrong way, we risk turning them off to math for life. If we take the opportunity to explore why there are different ways to approach the same problem, it can be a learning moment for the entire class.

Students can arrive at the right answer without understanding the bigger concept; or they can have an “aha” moment when they see why they got an answer wrong. When we ask students to show their work, we should think about how and why. Are we looking for a singular way to get to an answer, or are we encouraging students to have a dialogue about their process and their learning?

The toolkit was written by over 25 education organizations from across the United States with expertise in mathematics instruction, English language development, and culturally responsive teaching. The team included classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, instructional coaches, researchers, and professional development providers. You can read more about the team of collaborators here.

Each of the Strides (tools) builds off a base of well-known and widely-used academic and professional literature and resources. Each Stride was written by a team of math educators and was reviewed by a team of advisors with mathematics and English language development expertise who provided substantive feedback throughout the development process.

These resources are included throughout the toolkit and cited at the end of each Stride. Across all of the Strides, the team grounded their work in principles adapted from the work of Paul Gorski on education equity and drew upon Student Achievement Partners’ Instructional Priority Content in Mathematics, the principles of the California English Learner Roadmap, and the Position Statement of TODOS: Mathematics for All.  the principles of the California English Learner Roadmap, and the Position Statement of ;TODOS: Mathematics for All.

Absolutely not. As lovers of mathematics, the educators who created this toolkit believe that math is a beautiful language with which to understand and make meaning of the world. Stride 1 focuses on the ways in which a traditionally narrow approach to mathematics has unintentionally left many students – especially Black, Latinx, and multilingual learners – disconnected and left out from the world of mathematics. Stride 1 provides educators with a guide to reflect on their current teaching practices and to consider how to better engage students from every background by exploring different ways to approach the same problem with the hope they can apply the concepts in their everyday lives.
Stride 1, and the rest of the toolkit is all about engaging students from every background in a deep understanding of math and critical thinking concepts that they can use for the rest of their lives.

Racism* isn’t all about individual acts of prejudice, whether deliberate or accidental. It’s also about systems—rooted in history and infused in institutions, policies, and culture—that benefit White people and hurt people of color. Anti-racist education is about understanding and unraveling those systems so that all students can thrive. To do so, we must be open to learning how our communities, schools, and classrooms could be affected by systemic racism, regardless of individuals’ good intentions. We know that many teachers recognize the ways systemic racism plays out in our school systems and want to learn new ways to approach their teaching. The toolkit provides many “onramps” to support teachers on this journey. It provides tools for reflection, lesson planning templates, sample lesson plans, and structures for ongoing coaching and growth.

*Racism is defined as a historically rooted system of power hierarchies based on race— infused in our institutions, policies and culture—that benefit White people and hurt people of color. Racism isn’t limited to individual acts of prejudice, either deliberate or accidental. Rather, the most damaging racism is built into systems and institutions that shape our lives. Source: Race Forward

The math equity toolkit does not suggest math itself is racist; rather, it calls on educators to expand their approaches to teaching to welcome the cultural knowledge and experiences that students carry.
Not at all! To the contrary, the toolkit upholds the principle that access to high-quality and standards-aligned curriculum and instruction should be universal for all students, and understands that this is currently not the case. We are asking teachers to expand their teaching approaches to the benefit of all students. The toolkit provides guidance and resources for educators to reflect on and implement culturally responsive and student-centered instructional practices in order to ensure equitable access to grade-level standards.
We are asking teachers to expand their teaching approaches to the benefit of all students. The toolkit upholds the principle that access to high-quality and standards-aligned curriculum and instruction should be universal for all students, and understands that this is currently not the case.

While the toolkit includes references to instructional content for grades 6-8, the principles and practices are applicable to educators of all grade levels. Many educators are sharing that the tools are helpful for shaping learning conditions and experiences across multiple subject areas as well.

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