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Cases for Mathematics Teacher Educators: Facilitating Conversations About Inequities in Mathematics Classrooms

reviewed by Sandra M. Linder - March 27, 2017

coverTitle: Cases for Mathematics Teacher Educators: Facilitating Conversations About Inequities in Mathematics Classrooms
Author(s): Dorothy Y. White, Sandra Crespo, & Marta Civil (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681236257, Pages: 486, Year: 2016
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Dorothy Y. White, Sandra Crespo, and Marta Civil’s edited volume Cases for Mathematics Teacher Educators: Facilitating Conversations About Inequities in Mathematics Classrooms presents in-depth reflections from practicing mathematics teacher educators. These reflections relate to their experiences supporting in-service and pre-service teachers to make explicit connections between mathematics and social justice. The book is structured as a series of 19 cases separated into three parts. Part One focuses on cases addressing inequities within the context of methods courses for teaching mathematics. Part Two moves away from methods courses and toward cases focusing on inequities within mathematics content courses. Finally, the cases in Part Three deal with in-service teachers engaged in graduate coursework or professional development experiences. Three different commentaries follow each case. These provide feedback for the case author regarding how the commentary writers might have responded to the author’s situation or the steps they recommend for the author to take to move forward.

The authors featured in Cases for Mathematics Teacher Educators should be commended for writing about experiences that may not necessarily portray them in the best light. From this, they bring forth important social justice issues to examine. The raw honesty of each case provides readers with a safe and welcoming space to explore how they might consider addressing issues of inequity within mathematics classrooms in their own coursework or professional development experiences. The editors wisely choose dilemmas that all mathematics teacher educators have experienced. At times, I felt myself nodding in agreement with the authors given that I have worked through many of these same issues with pre-service and in-service early childhood educators. For example, when reading Courtney Koestler’s descriptions of her students' deficit-oriented perspectives of what mathematics tasks a child can or cannot do, I found myself reflecting on my own students’ negative perceptions of a child’s ability based on race, gender, language ability, or socioeconomic circumstances.

The commentaries presented for each case are critical of the author in question, but are also supportive and empathetic. They allow readers to reflect on each case with a different lens and perhaps even take away more from the situation. However, it becomes a bit cumbersome and occasionally repetitive to include three commentaries per situation. If you read this book by choosing specific cases depending on your needs, you would likely lose the connections among cases and the overarching understanding of the magnitude of social inequities that we must address as mathematics teacher educators. However, if you read this volume in its entirety, the commentaries could eventually become burdensome over time. Perhaps the editors would have benefitted from including only two points of view rather than three for each case.

One weakness to note in Cases for Mathematics Teacher Educators is its lack of practical application strategies for mathematics teacher educators. The cases are illuminating and provide insight about the authors’ struggles. Similarly, the commentaries provide helpful feedback for the situations at hand. However, each case would have benefited from specific strategies for connecting these scenarios to the reader’s practice. For example, Judit Moschkovich presents the struggles of undergraduate math majors as they make sense of the mathematical capabilities of emergent bilingual students. In this case, her undergraduate students are presented with vignettes and engage in discussions that challenge their conceptions about these emergent bilingual learners. Of the three commentaries that follow, only one provides a specific framework for challenging undergraduate students’ beliefs. While this is not the case for all of the commentaries, the recommendations that are provided are normally specific to the context of each case. Readers could benefit from a short summary of guidelines following each set of commentaries that give examples of how to facilitate the complex social justice issues described in the case under examination.

Finally, I am struck by the deficit orientation that some of the case authors take toward their pre-service or in-service students when presenting their dilemmas. Although these authors’ shared goal was to address the deficit views of their students, they sometimes describe these same learners through their deficiencies rather than the strengths that they brought to the situation. For example, Kathryn B. Chval and Rachel J. Pinnow touch on this view when they state in their commentary, “MTEs [mathematics teacher educators] cannot employ a deficit view of PSTs [pre-service teachers] that positions them as lacking knowledge or agency, as we do not want them to in turn employ that perspective with their own students” (p. 172). I particularly appreciate the advice of Higinio Dominguez who states that, “I prefer to think of weakening these [deficit] perspectives instead of challenging or disrupting them, because I want to achieve specific things with words” (p. 122, emphasis in original). This point of view embodies what I see as a major goal of this book. Specifically, it aims to facilitate a conversation about how to best support future mathematics educators as they tangle with issues of inequity.

Overall, White, Crespo, and Civil’s Cases for Mathematics Teacher Educators is well-structured and illuminating. It is a starting point for poignant discussions that are necessary for deciding how to best move toward developing future mathematics educators who are advocates for change and can meet the needs of all their students in constructive ways. This text would be a wonderful option for a faculty book study or a graduate course on preparing future teacher educators for what they might encounter in the classroom. The volume would also be worthwhile for instructional coaches, facilitators of professional development, and school district administrators to gain a better understanding of current and future teacher perceptions. It would also be useful in addressing social inequities through professional development experiences related to mathematics. Equity issues pervade education. Math is a subject that is a natural gateway for making sense of these issues. However, change is not easy as demonstrated by each case included in this text. Only by engaging in deep reflection with a willingness to hear critiques can mathematics teacher educators begin finding pathways of success for connecting mathematics and social justice issues for pre-service and in-service teachers. Ideally, they will eventually become change agents with their own students.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 27, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21885, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 2:23:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Sandra Linder
    Clemson University
    E-mail Author
    SANDRA M. LINDER is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Mathematics Education in the Eugene T. Moore College of Education at Clemson University. Her research centers on supporting and sustaining teacher quality in early childhood mathematics through professional development. She has taught in a variety of elementary settings and has worked intensively with in-service and pre-service mathematics educators from infant settings through fifth grade. Currently, she is examining the impact of mathematics professional development on the early care workforce (birth to age 5) through Project BEEMS (Building Environments for Early Mathematics Success). Also in this project, she is investigating the role of the families in promoting mathematics understandings in young children.
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