District Decision-Makers’ Considerations of Equity and Equality Related to Students’ Opportunities to Learn Algebra
by Beth A. Herbel-Eisenmann, Lindsay Keazer & Anne Traynor - 2018
Background/Context: In this article we explore equity issues related to school district decision-making about students’ opportunities to learn algebra. We chose algebra because of the important role it plays in the U.S. as a gatekeeper to future academic success. Current research has not yet explored issues of equity in district-level decision-making.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We examine the extent to which district decision-makers for mathematics attend to aspects of equity when they make decisions about resources related to the teaching and learning of algebra. The research questions guiding this study were: How do district decision-makers for mathematics report considering issues of equity when making decisions about students’ opportunities to learn Algebra I? How do district characteristics, particularly students’ racial and ethnic diversity, affect the extent of equity considerations by mathematics decision-makers?
Research Design: We surveyed a national probability sample of 993 district decision-makers for mathematics about criteria that they consider when they select and distribute resources and structure learning opportunities in algebra for students and teachers in their districts. These survey items were our attempt to identify district-level practices in relationship to an equity framework. In this study, we examine national patterns in criteria for decision-making about algebra resources and examine the relation of these criteria to district features using a structural equation model.
Findings: Our findings suggest that fewer decision-makers considered equity-related criteria in their decision-making about algebra, while many tended to endorse equality-related items addressing considerations for all students, such as giving all students the same resources or attending to preparation for standardized testing. The vast majority of decision-makers reported considering real life contexts for algebra when making decisions about professional development (PD) and curriculum, while fewer considered the students’ culture or culturally relevant teaching. Decision-makers in only about half of the districts reported considering structural aspects, such as tracking. Modeling of the survey responses indicates that decision-makers in the most racially or ethnically and linguistically diverse districts have the greatest tendency to consider equity criteria in structuring students’ opportunities to learn algebra.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The extent to which district decision-makers for mathematics attend to aspects of equity is noteworthy because their decisions inform the selection and distribution of educational resources for learning algebra across districts. These findings raise important concerns with respect to how district decision-making mobilizes and shapes the resources available to teachers and students. Recommendations include supporting district decision-makers in a) expanding their conceptions of real life contexts to include students’ culture, b) considering different framings of the problem of participation gaps, c) reconsidering ability grouping and understanding the negative consequences of tracking, and d) carefully examining the kinds of stated and unarticulated rules, rewards, and sanctions that get put into place to uncover how inequitable practices get perpetuated.
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