My most vivid experiences in mathematics classrooms often point to joy, wonder and beauty of learning mathematics. Some may think this sounds odd, but as an educator, I have experienced the innate joy when watching an entire classroom of students listening to one another and weighing competing explanations on how they make sense of a graph describing a race — students reflecting on their own and others’ thinking. You can almost see the lightbulbs go on when ideas solidify, sense is made and faces light with the joy in figuring something out.
We need to support an effort that promotes and values students’ participation in mathematical discussions — sharing their reasoning and creating, critiquing, and revising arguments. Students working together to make sense of and use mathematical ideas is a way to develop their abilities and their view of themselves as being doers of math.
Sadly, as a student and mathematics educator in both urban and suburban schools, I have experienced inequitable outcomes in math. This is not new. Tracking students in mathematics results in a significant percentage of students being denied access to a high-quality math curriculum, effective teaching and learning, high expectations, and the necessary supports needed to maximize their learning potential. The work of San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and others are examples of how de-tracking can increase success in and access to more mathematics for more students.
What to do
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recently published “Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations,” which recommends the elimination of tracking students. Other school districts should look at SFUSD as an example. It is time to identify tracking practices and stop them. Tracking can lead to the distribution of students in high- and low-ability classrooms in ways that are correlated with the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities found in the broader society.
Engaging and rigorous math learning experiences, coupled with students viewing themselves as doers of mathematics, expand students’ opportunities in our STEM world. The time has come to begin the courageous work needed to intentionally and systematically remove the pernicious tracking of our students in math and move toward creating pathways for success in math for each and every student.
Dr. Robert Q. Berry III, President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, [email protected]