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Creating Mathematical Futures through an Equitable Teaching Approach: The Case of Railside School

by Jo Boaler & Megan Staples - 2008

Background/Context: School tracking practices have been documented repeatedly as having negative effects on students’ identity development and attainment, particularly for those students placed in lower tracks. Despite this documentation, tracking persists as a normative practice in American high schools, perhaps in part because we have few models of how departments and teachers can successfully organize instruction in heterogeneous, high school mathematics classes. This paper offers one such model through a qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Focus of Study: In an effort to better the field’s understanding of equitable and successful teaching, we conducted a longitudinal study of three high schools. At one school, Railside, students demonstrated greater gains in achievement than students at the other two schools and higher overall achievement on a number of measures. Furthermore, achievement gaps among various ethnic groups at Railside that were present on incoming assessments disappeared in nearly all cases by the end of the second year. This paper provides an analysis of Railside’s success and identifies factors that contributed to this success.

Participants: Participants included approximately 700 students as they progressed through three California high schools. Railside was an urban high school with an ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse student body. Greendale was situated in a coastal community with a more homogeneous, primarily White student body. Hilltop was a rural high school with primarily White and Latino/a students.

Research Design: This longitudinal, multiple case study employed mixed methods. Three schools were chosen to offer a range of curricular programs and varied student populations. Student achievement and attitudinal data were evaluated using statistical techniques, whereas teacher and student practices were documented using qualitative analytic techniques such as coding.

Findings/Results: One of the findings of the study was the success of Railside school, where the mathematics department taught heterogeneous classes using a reform-oriented approach. Compared with the other two schools in the study, Railside students learned more, enjoyed mathematics more and progressed to higher mathematics levels. This paper presents large-scale evidence of these important achievements and provides detailed analyses of the ways that the Railside teachers brought them about, with a focus on the teaching and learning interactions within the classrooms.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 3, 2008, p. 608-645
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14590, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 7:34:14 PM

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About the Author
  • Jo Boaler
    University of Sussex, England
    E-mail Author
    JO BOALER is the Marie Curie Professor of Education at the University of Sussex, England. Her research interests include mathematics teaching and learning and equity. She is the author of three books: Connecting Mathematical Ideas (2005), with Cathy Humphreys; Experiencing School Mathematics (1997 & 2002); and Multiple Perspectives on Mathematics Education (2000).
  • Megan Staples
    University of Connecticut
    E-mail Author
    MEGAN STAPLES is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include the development and nature of mathematical discourse in collaborative classrooms and the mathematical preparation of secondary teachers.
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